Relapse in Judgment

The troubled Arizona Board of Medical Examiners has again shut the public out of information about the state's MDs, this time blaming a change in the law meant to provide more disclosure.

BOMEX staff has stopped telling the public about the allegations faced by a doctor under investigation. The board is releasing only the number of complaints against a doctor, not what types of complaints. The specific nature of the complaints is "private and confidential," board staff says.

BOMEX executive director Claudia Foutz says the Legislature exempted complaints from scrutiny when it passed a new law this year establishing a Web site where people could review doctors' records.

The change goes against years of practice at the board. In the past, the complaint category--ranging from sexual misconduct to fee disputes--was made publicly available. But last year, BOMEX, under Foutz's direction, passed a policy that prevented disclosure of anything but disciplinary actions. That means the vast majority of board decisions--most of which let the doctors off--were kept secret.

Foutz, after being ripped in a legislative hearing, got the board to reconsider its policy, and the information--which is public record by law--was made available again.

This time, Foutz says, information is being withheld because of the new law.
She's wrong. The law doesn't even mention complaint type.
But Foutz blamed Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Phoenix Democrat, and Senator Russell Gnant, a Scottsdale Republican, saying they struck a last-minute deal that prevents BOMEX from releasing the type of complaint.

Cummiskey couldn't be reached for comment, but Gnant disputes Foutz's story. "I am unaware of any conversation with Senator Cummiskey [at any time] that would have prevented BOMEX from releasing any information to the public," he says. "In fact, everything we've done has been aimed at exactly the opposite."

Stuart Goodman, an aide to Governor Jane Hull who was involved in negotiations about the bill, says he knew the new Web site wouldn't include complaint type. But, he says, BOMEX had made that decision itself.

"I don't know where Claudia is getting her authority from on that," he says. "I'm not saying she's exceeding her authority, but I'm just not sure where she's getting the authorization."

Foutz backtracked when told that the law doesn't exempt complaint categories.

"I was speaking about board policy," she says. "The changes we have made match the new board disclosure policy." Foutz says the board has voted to keep the complaint type from public view, but admits there is no exemption in the law to support the change.

"So I misspoke," Foutz added. "What are you going to do, send me to prison? Is that what they do here in Arizona?"

Foutz might be joking, but patience with BOMEX's repeated attempts to close off public records is wearing thin.

Says Gnant: "The Legislature is certainly willing to give Ms. Foutz time to reorganize BOMEX, but if any of her plans include restricting information from the public, she might want to consult with the Legislature before she goes ahead and does it."

Read more New Times' coverage of BOMEX

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Chris Farnsworth