ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Our next witness is Scott Todd.
MR. TODD: Good afternoon. My name is Scott Todd. I am a retied New York State Police Senior Investigator. I just happen to be the chairman of what we cal the Committee for Justice. This is a grass roots committee that was formed by thousands of central New York citizens to protect the injustice that was done to Dr. Gregory O'Keefe by the Physician Disciplinary Process. A process that has left an honorable physician without his noble profession and us without the doctor that we trust and admire.
This is the story of Dr. Gregory O'Keefe. It's the story of a doctor's doctor. One who has saved dozens of lives. It's a story of a talented, dedicated, compassionate healer. A true hero of our time. He has put dedication to healing before money, power or ego. Seven before his own needs. He is a true treasure of our community and selfishly we know that he can never be replaced. In 29 years he has never had a patient complaint. In 29 years he has never had a malpractice suit. He has received two Governor's awards in the state of Maine for excellence and a Jefferson award for his community service. Assemblyman Mark Butler who is here today with us and Senators Jim Sword and Hugh Farley support his reinstatement along with 4,000 other citizens of the Mohawk Valley who have written letters to the Governor and to the Department of Health and OPMC.
So how does a man of this caliber end up as a victim of the OPMC process? What happened next has been a horrifying nightmare to him, his family and to our entire community.
In 1997 Dr. O'Keefe was at Bassett Clinic in Herkimer, New York. Dr. was assigned to sign charts of patients that he had not actually seen. He complained to the CEO of Bassett Hospital Dr. Bill Shtrek that he felt (inaudible) Medicaid insurance fraud and he would not be a part of it. The result of this disagreement was that Shtrek who previously had nothing but praise for his medical Director Dr. O'Keefe began a review of every single patient file of Dr. O'Keefe's over the previous three years. Over 20,000 patients. Shtrek even obtained patient files from the Valley Health Nursing Home without nursing home or patient permission.
When the CEO and CFO of Valley Health objected he was told that we own you so we will do what we want. He pressed employees for any dirt on Dr. O'Keefe. Has anyone sexual harassed you? Has he sexually harassed you? Has he abused any of his patients? Even when he had no patient complaints whatsoever.
Not what I would consider a normal peer review, which was what was later told by Shtrek to OPMC. Shtrek came up with nine out of 20,000 patient files that Bassett CEO himself described as no big deal. None of which resulted in any serious harm to patients. No patient had complained but these files leaned over Dr. O'Keefe's head. When Shtrek instructed him to take a refresher course at Harvard over some issue, he did. When Shtrek then announced that he was transferring him away from his thousands of patients, he refused. He would not desert his patients. Many of whom were elderly. He would not be bullied by Shtrek and he refused to be intimidated or manipulated into fraudulent Medicaid billing.
He resigned from Bassett Hospital. When doc left Bassett Clinic, Shtrek threatened him saying, "if you do this Greg, I will make your life miserable." Shtrek who had not seen any need to report these minor cases to OPMC before now six months later and only after doc left to work at a competing hospital did he sign this OPMC letter that continued misrepresentations of the facts of these cases.
We believe this report was not made out of duty to protect society from a dangerous doctor but out of malice and revenge in an attempt to destroy Dr. O'Keefe and Bassett's competition. Shtrek used this disciplinary process for his own personal motive. Shtrek's plan to destroy Dr. O'Keefe went so far as to having Bassett employees tell patients including my wife who called Bassett Clinic looking for Dr. O'Keefe that he had a mental breakdown. Bassett did the same thing years before to Dr. Webster Stamen who I interviewed personally when he left to open his own competing practice in plastic surgery.
Dr. O'Keefe's spent the next three years as the medical Director at Little Falls Hospital Clinic with a spotless record. Over 60% of his patients left the Bassett Clinic including myself and my wife and happily filed into his new position. During those three years all of his files were reviewed by a team of physician auditors like Dr. Rita Radcliff. She has had nothing but praise for Dr. O'Keefe's ability, leadership and demeanor. Dr. Radcliff, the Board of Directors at the Little Falls Hospital and the staff physicians have all put their support in writing for Dr. O'Keefe.
OPMC accepted this illegally obtained patient files. They saw no bias motives in the report and have set up a disciplinary hearing for Dr. O'Keefe. It was at this disciplinary hearing that everything that could go wrong did. First, the chairman of the hearing board Dr. Chout admitted that he knew OPMC witness and Bassett employee Dr. Ong personally. OPMC witnessed Dr. Snow also had contacts with Bassett employees. Dr. Chout even stated off the record, "yeah I know all those folks at Bassett but I can be fair." He wasn't. This is clearly bias. Chout should have recused himself.
Second Dr. Chout is a retired gynecologist. He had no specific experience or knowledge of the specialized internist medicine that was dealt with in this hearing. Dr. O'Keefe should have had a hearing panel of his peers. A practicing physician with direct knowledge and experience with the issues at hand would have guaranteed a fair competent hearing.
Third, doc should have had the right to competent counsel since he never experienced this process sand had confidence that there was nothing of substance to these charges he retained a local lawyer who had no experience in these matters and had failed miserably to competently cross examine OPMC witnesses and to subpoena valuable defense witnesses who could have easily refuted the OPMC testimony. Some of which appeared for the first time at the hearing.
In a criminal process he would be granted an appeal based on incompetent counsel or inability to discover the facts that were going to be presented at the trial.
Fourth, he was not given the right to face his accusers and have his own explanation of the circumstances considered. Instead the hearing chairman Chout actually stated that he discounted all of Dr. O'Keefe's testimony because he believes that doc would say anything to save his license.
Fifth there is no continuity or consistence to either the understanding of gross negligence or gross incompetence who this morning OPMC could not even describe for us. That goes for the punishments as well. When no complaints were ever made by patients and none were seriously harmed revocation of this doctor's license is shocking to the sense of fairness. Dozens of OPMC hearing records that we have looked at prove that doctors who made much more serious errors were not punished as severely as Dr. O'Keefe or at all. Since Dr. O'Keefe does not have the right to present new evidence.
Sixth Dr. O'Keefe does not have the right to present new evidence after the hearing revocation. The most serious allegation against doc involved an elderly nursing home patient who was in excruciating pain following a hip fracture. At 8:00 in the evening the only doctor that you would find working at that time of day in the valley, doc performed several trigger point injections for pain along this patient's neck and back which immediately relieved her excruciating pain. Dr. O'Keefe ordered the nurses in the nursing home to keep an eye on her for any symptoms of any distress and ordered a follow up x-ray for the first ting the next morning. The next morning the x-ray revealed a small nemothorax or bleeding a lung, which was so small that the patient still had no symptoms. She was immediately treated and suffered no lasting effect and to this day have never made any complaint.
However, at the hearing the x-ray technician Terry Vivian (ph) testified that Dr. O'Keefe had told her that he knew he had caused this nemothorax that night and even heard a wush of air from the syringe. Doc adamantly denied this ridiculous testimony. The hearing panel believed her testimony, totally discounting Dr. O'Keefe's.
Since the hearing we have obtained a sworn affidavit from a renowned cardiologist Dr. Brian Gaffney who has stated that these injections were performed in a safe manner and that wush of air scenario is physiologically impossible. He even commented that it sounded to him like a setup.
We even went so far as to have a criminal polygraph examination performed on Dr. O'Keefe by a highly respected employee of the U.S. Marshall Service. The result was that doc was found to be truthful. OPMC had revoked an innocent doctor based on false testimony from a competing hospital involving one witness unsubstantiated by any corroborate evidence whatsoever.
Members of our committee for Justice met with Deputy Commissioner Dennis Whalen and Administrators of OPMC in August of 2001. In the spirit of justice and fair play we requested that they look at this evidence and consider a new hearing for Dr. O'Keefe or a reduction in the unjustified over punishment. The real test of integrity is not that you never make a mistake but that when you do there is a need and desire to correct it. Three months later we received a letter from Whalen stating there was nothing he could do to change Dr. O'Keefe's revocation.
Needless to say our faith in the OPMC system at that point was destroyed. There is no due process when there is evidence of bias. Or when there is evidence that a witness provided false testimony. Or that the initial complaint was based on revenge, competition and false information. There is no due process when the patient records were obtained illegally from nursing home patients without their knowledge or consent. Or when a physician has incompetent counsel and no ability to grant a new hearing. There is no due process when the uncorroborated testimony of an x-ray technician is given more evidentiary weight than Dr. O'Keefe's own testimony, an independent cardiologist affidavit and a police criminal polygraph test. There is no due process when the punishment is so completely out of the realm of fairness that an outrages 4,000 citizens.
Administrators of OPMC have told us that their job is protecting the citizens. From what I have heard here today and what I found in this investigation it is us the citizens of this state that feel that we need protection from them. There is no due process when OPMC conducts the investigation picks the judge and jury, finds guilt or innocence and also prescribes the punishment. There is a genuine need for a process to investigate and punish bad doctors.
I have arrested hundreds of criminals over 20 years of experience, even several doctors. I don't have any problem with that part of the process. But this is not about protecting the process. It is about the truth. In our criminal process we don't throw out our jury trial system when we find that an innocent man has been convicted in error. But, we do not pretend that the system is perfect. We certainly do not allow the innocent to remain in jail because, "he had his process," as we were told by OPMC. We allow new evidence to be hard and we correct the injustice.
John F. Kennedy once said conformity is the enemy of growth and the (inaudible) of freedom. We believe that our strength as Americans has always been our ability to change. To put aside our egos for the purpose of change for the better. If freedom is the heart of America then justice is the (inaudible) of America. This disciplinary process needs to find its soul. One whose roots go deep in the rich soil of truth and whose leaves build their fruit of justice. Just as truly is the conscious of humanity I pray that you are the conscious of the OPMC. Benjamin Franklin said "the doors of wisdom are never shut." I trust that you will have the wisdom and the courage to replace the biased unbalanced and the arrogance with an honorable system that respects civil rights and due process. One that we all can be proud of. May God guide and bless you in that noble task.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Thank you. Do others of you want to add?
DR. O'KEEFE: May I have two minutes?
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Sure.
DR. O'KEEFE: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Okay you can speak. But again as we said earlier we have a list of witnesses but under the circumstances I will give an opportunity to speak very briefly.
DR. O'KEEFE: Thank you very much. Thank you Chairman Gottfried, Ms. Mayersohn, Dr. Miller Assemblyman Butler, Scott Todd and the 4,000 citizens of Herkimer who have supported me. My respects to the other -- Gregory O'Keefe, to the other witnesses today. I am Gregory O'Keefe a physician for thirty years and revoked by OPMC in October of this year. I cherish that relationship between patient and physician that combines up to date science with age old compassion and love. I have always chosen the patient before myself and I will fight to my death against any unscrupulous hospital CEO's personal empire building. Because of that empire building I am here today.
I am at that brink of professional death for OPMC has given me the black spot. I would never tolerate Medicare and Medicaid fraud at Bassett Healthcare nor would I cave into the retaliation by Bassett Shtrek. Shtrek did not correct the fraud at Bassett instead he used his influence at OPMC to get his false report on me accepted. OPMC refused at every stage to mediate the picky little charges and nor would they reveal that the purged witness would be giving testimony until the time of her testimony.
OPMC appointed a bias judge who personally knew Shtrek and his witnesses and how accepted the purged testimony of Shtrek's employee. The OPMC appeals process did not allow the evidence, the bias, the incompetence or vengeful nature of the false report to be admitted. The Commissioner's office was unwilling to listen to the truth brought by over 4,000 citizens.
In correcting the laws please remember that the most important parts of the healthcare equation are the patient and the physician. OPMC cannot serve as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. My treatment demonstrates how easily the process can be deformed. Medical panel judges must be actively practicing peer physicians of guaranteed competence and neutrality in no one's pocket and not the employees of OPMC picked by their conviction rate.
Citizens of New York demand that OPMC not deprive them of excellent physicians without fairness and due process.
Thank you very much. Sincerely.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Thank you all. I just have one question. After the OPMC, after the administrative proceedings were concluded did you seek any appeal the case to court? Did you seek judicial review and what happened with that?
DR. O'KEEFE: After the review board came out with it's revocation we proceeded to directly to the court of Appeals because our attorney was advised by Dennis Murphy or Brian Murphy of OPMC that we did not stand a chance at ARB and therefore we went to the Appeals Court because it gave me the opportunity to continue practicing. Then as it turned out none of the evidence that we wanted to present was admittable.
MR. TODD: I think if I could Mr. Gottfried just kind of sum up the new evidence problem. If a doctor is revoked for three years and then it turns out that the witness against that doctor even recants and says I lied, the story I told was false, we're being told that there is no method for that doctor to be reinstated. It's hard for laymen like myself who are used tot eh criminal venue to see that an innocent person could be persecuted for the three year period even knowing that there is evidence that would prove their innocence. When we bring this up to the OPMC people and DOH they say well change the law. I think that's one of the reasons why we are here today.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Okay. Any other questions?
ASSEMBLYMAN MILLER: Just as a comment of explanation to the listening audience. The OPMC basically indicated to us that in fact they do ask for revocation in 100% of the cases that they try. They don't always get revocation. But the fact that that's their goal is a very scary thing. They're not, it's an all or nothing that they pursue. It's only by intervention that it's less on the revocations. I don't want anyone to think that because they sought revocation that they really thought this was an extreme case. That's just what they do. That's part of the lack of fairness. It's sort of like life in prison for every single crime.
DR. O'KEEFE: One slight further explanation. Actually OPMC asked for suspension only and the hearing panel which I felt was rather biased gave revocation which was actually a worse penalty than what OPMC requested.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Thank you. Thank you to our colleague Assemblyman Butler for coming here today with you. Next is Dr. Charles Gantt and Mark Ungar. I understand Al Cutler is not here. No? Okay.