Diagnosis Unknown

A longtime team physician at Arizona State University resigned last week, unhappy after a six-month investigation into complaints about ASU's Student Health and Wellness Center concluded that most of the charges were without merit.

ASU released a sanitized version of the results of the investigation last month to the complainants and to New Times. While most of the complaints were found to have insufficient evidence or required "no further action," ASU administrators have called for further review in two important instances. An audit will be conducted into Student Health's patient billing practices, as well as an alleged sweetheart deal between ASU's Intercollegiate Athletics and a Scottsdale pharmacy. Also, an independent medical review has been ordered of Student Health providers.

And the two main targets of the investigation, director of Student Health Mary Rimsza and head team physician Steve Erickson, have been instructed to engage in conflict resolution with the complainants.

But that isn't nearly enough to satisfy Brent Rich, one of the five Student Health employees who filed complaints last December. After 12 years of providing medical care to ASU student athletes, Rich, whose rsum includes a stint with the 2000 U.S. Olympic team and current work with the Arizona Diamondbacks, resigned on July 29.

"I am really shocked that [Rimsza and Erickson] have been able to get away with what they have," says Rich, 45. "I don't think [ASU administration] took our complaints as seriously as they should have. It's insulting. I can find success in my career elsewhere."

ASU administrative officials could not be reached for comment on Rich's resignation.

At least one of the other complainants, radiology technician Bill Collins, 70, doesn't plan to quit. But he isn't happy.

"It's a whitewash, but I didn't expect much more from this place," Collins says.

The most serious accusations against Rimsza and Erickson included overbilling patients, gender harassment, and incompetent medical care ("Health Scare," Joe Watson, May 27). Rich, Collins, and three other employees who requested anonymity from New Times also claimed that Erickson brokered an arrangement with a Scottsdale pharmacy, The Apothecary Shop, which would exclusively fill student athletes' prescriptions in exchange for a $10,000 donation to ASU's Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA). The complainants also alleged that Erickson knowingly used a portable x-ray machine that did not meet required state regulations on at least a dozen student athletes in the Fall 2003 semester, and had patients perform their own x-rays for fear of being overexposed himself.

Neither Erickson nor Rimsza has responded to New Times' requests for interview.

In a letter dated July 9, ASU's vice president of student affairs, Juan Gonzalez, informed Rich and the other complainants that many of their accusations -- investigated by the Phoenix law firm Sanders & Parks -- lacked sufficient evidence, and that the university had reached closure on most of the issues on which ASU chose to focus.

"There were some very valid concerns we brought to [ASU's] attention," says Rich, currently a team physician with the Arizona Diamondbacks and a team physician with the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that traveled to Sydney, Australia. "I still think there are some significant concerns. But they're the administrators, and apparently they think everything's okay."

Regarding the portable x-ray machine, Gonzalez noted that during the investigation a medical physicist made recommendations as to the maintenance of the unit -- which now has been licensed by the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency -- and that Rimsza was to provide a written statement of when maintenance would be carried out in the future, and by whom. Furthermore, an ICA employee referred to only as "Dr. Davis" in the investigative report admitted to Erickson that he had some patients "push the button" on the x-ray machine (which Gonzalez deemed "a regulatory violation") but that once Erickson became aware of the situation Davis "discontinued this practice."

As to claims of gender discrimination, Gonzalez wrote that the evidence supplied to investigators "did not support the claim . . . based on the examples provided." He also wrote to the employees, in response to complaints regarding Erickson's and Rimsza's management styles, that "the differences with management style do not constitute a violation of policy." Gonzalez added that both sides "accuse the other of contributing to a hostile environment," and he concluded that the complainants and Student Health administration "shall participate in a conflict resolution process, facilitated by highly experienced and skilled specialists in the field."

Rich, who provided New Times with a copy of his resignation letter -- as well as written testimonials from ASU men's basketball coach Rob Evans, men's golf coach Randall Lein, and women's tennis coach Sheila McInerney -- wrote to a Student Health administrator that "the direction of Student Health services" compelled him to quit.

In 1993, Rich became a team physician, and eventually brought Erickson -- who was once a partner in Rich's private medical practice -- to ASU in 1998. While Rich was in Sydney for the 2000 Summer Olympics, other complainants say that Erickson curried favor with Rimsza and had Rich demoted upon his return. Erickson has been the head team physician ever since.

Rich says he'll go back to private practice and continue working with the Diamondbacks.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, has also ordered an audit of the deal between ICA and The Apothecary Shop to determine whether an agreement between the two has violated university policies regarding gifts and service contracts. Gonzalez also wants the audit to cover Student Health's billing practices, as the complainants alleged that Erickson was billing student athletes twice for a single visit.

Most urgently, according to ASU deputy general counsel Mary Stevens, ASU has arranged for an independent medical review of both Erickson and Rimsza to begin sometime in mid-August. The complainants claim Rimsza and Erickson have misdiagnosed and mistreated students, including former ASU basketball player Justin Allen, whose mother, Faye, tells New Times she's planning on filing a civil suit against the university, claiming that Erickson misdiagnosed Justin's Hodgkin's disease as merely a groin strain.

"I'm not going to play games anymore," says Faye Allen, who's been a registered nurse in the family's home state of Illinois for 37 years. "I want somebody to listen to me. I don't want to do this, I don't like lawsuits. But neither do I want students left with inadequate medical care."

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-744-6557.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joe Watson