The Arizona State Board of Medical Examiners (BOMEX) voted last month to cut off public access to thousands of complaints filed against doctors.
Until now, citizens could call BOMEX and find out how many complaints had been filed against a doctor, what the complaints were for and what action had been taken. But BOMEX will no longer tell the public what kind of complaints a doctor faces, or about complaints that have been dismissed. Patients checking up on their physicians will only hear about problems which resulted in discipline or board action.
BOMEX, which does not discipline doctors in nine out of 10 cases, has been criticized by legislators and state auditors for its kid-gloves treatment of doctors ("The BOMEX Files," May 7). The board's decision also means that the public can't get details on backlogged investigations, now numbering about 800.
"I don't want patients trying to make decisions based on baseless allegations," says Eric Nickell, BOMEX's ombudsman. "We're going to clean up the information a lot more; it's going to be useful information."
Nickell says the public doesn't need to hear about the complaints, just what BOMEX has done in response.
State Senator Chris Cummiskey, who has proposed legislation to post all BOMEX data on a state Internet site, calls the decision a "mistake."
"I think it's absurd for an agency under fire like BOMEX has been to make it more difficult for the public to ascertain what kind of job they're doing," he says. "The more information the public has in their hands, the better off they're going to be."
Cummiskey says he met with BOMEX executive director Claudia Foutz just a few weeks ago and she didn't say anything about the move to eliminate public information. Cummiskey says he'll still push for full disclosure of BOMEX's files.
New Times obtained the BOMEX database before the board's decision and has posted disciplinary records--including those that have been dismissed--online at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bomex.html. The database covers M.D.s only; D.O.s are regulated by a different board and are not included in the BOMEX database.
Traditional Hopi elders have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against a sewer system in the village of Hotevilla. In a petition filed October 3, the elders ask the nation's highest court to overturn a March ruling that the Hopi Tribe can't be sued, even by its own people ("Anti-Peace Pipes," March 26).
The million-dollar sewer system was built by the tribe with money from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Indian Health Service. The system brought indoor plumbing to dozens of homes on the isolated mesa in northern Arizona. Traditional Hopi, however, believe the buried sewer pipes desecrate sacred land and block the path of their prayers to the Creator. They want the system taken out.
The dissident Hopi, led by a 105-year-old elder, argued that the tribe and the government violated federal environmental laws because they failed to do a thorough study of the project, including an environmental impact statement that should have considered the effect of the system on some tribe members' religious beliefs.
If the tribe and federal agencies are allowed to thumb their noses at federal environmental laws, the traditional Hopi have asked the U.S. Supreme Court, what's to stop them from building, say, a parking lot that could demolish acres of culturally and environmentally sensitive land?
There's no word on when--or whether--the high court will take up the case.
Read more New Times' coverage of BOMEX