Wahpeton-area doctor accused of illicit prescriptions
WAHPETON, N.D. - A Wahpeton-area doctor whose Minnesota medical license was suspended indefinitely last month continues to treat patients in North Dakota as the state's Board of Medical Practice considers allegations that he improperly prescribes pain medication.
Dr. James Wasemiller, 65, has a history of disciplinary actions dating back to 1992, when the Minnesota Board of Medical Examiners restricted his license based on unprofessional and unethical conduct, inappropriate prescriptions and failure to keep adequate records.
His indefinite Minnesota suspension follows a board inquiry opened in 2009 that disciplined Wasemiller for approving pain medication for patients without keeping proper documentation or using proper procedure - an issue that came to the board's attention after an insurance provider cut off business with him because of concerns about excessive prescription of narcotics.
Wasemiller denied those claims in a 2010 hearing after which the Minnesota board required him, as a condition of his license, to practice in a group setting with a supervising doctor. The board's Nov. 22 action came after it found Wasemiller was working alone.
The current complaint by the North Dakota board's investigative panel seeks "appropriate" sanctions against Wasemiller based on the Minnesota findings.
Duane Houdek, executive secretary for the North Dakota board, said Wasemiller fulfilled the requirements of prior conditions placed on his license, so currently there are no conditions on his license.
The North Dakota board hasn't used its emergency powers to suspend Wasemiller's license. That step is taken only if the board has "clear and convincing evidence" that the public continues to be at risk during the disciplinary proceedings, Houdek said.
As for what sanctions Wasemiller may face, Houdek said the board will make that determination after staff and Wasemiller reach an agreement that satisfies the board or the matter goes to an administrative law judge, who would then recommend action to the board.
There's no set schedule of sanctions based on previous disciplinary actions, Houdek said.
"But certainly the board looks at what it's done in the past and whether it's worked, whether that has been sufficient to protect the public," he said. "And if it has proven not to be, they'll take other action."
Wasemiller did not return multiple messages left at his offices last week.
Wasemiller practices at the Medical Arts Clinic in Wahpeton. He also used to see patients in neighboring Breckenridge, Minn.
Court records show he was sued for malpractice three times in Wilkin County, Minn., from 2003 to 2008. Plaintiffs were awarded money judgments in two of the cases; the other was dismissed.
In one of the cases, a woman sued Wasemiller and St. Francis Medical Center in Breckenridge, claiming Wasemiller botched her gastric bypass surgery at the hospital in April 2002. It's considered a landmark case because the Minnesota Supreme Court recognized for the first time that a cause of action exists against a hospital for how it credentials a physician to see patients in its facility, according to a journal article from the William Mitchell College of Law.
The Minnesota medical board received notice in December 2008 that Wasemiller had been cut off from an insurance provider network "due to excessive prescribing of narcotics," according to public board documents.
In June 2009, the Minnesota board launched an investigation by the state Attorney General's Office into Wasemiller's practice, including an audit of his patient records.
The investigation found concerns regarding Wasemiller's patient care, documentation and prescribing practices. One allegation was that Wasemiller frequently approved narcotics based on patients' claims of pain, "but failed to document objective clinical findings to support the need for ongoing medications," board documents say.
Wasemiller also failed to assess patients for risk of chemical dependency or suicide, didn't routinely conduct pill counts and "failed to heed concerns or warnings raised by other health care providers or family members regarding his patients' excessive or inappropriate use of narcotics," documents say.
In September 2010, Wasemiller met with the board's Complaint Review Committee and denied that he inappropriately prescribed drugs for his patients. He said he required his chronic pain patients to return for clinic appointments on a monthly basis and implemented verbal, rather than written, narcotic contracts.
"(Wasemiller) acknowledged that he may have occasionally neglected to document his patient records, especially for rechecks of routine vital signs, but denied improper patient care," board documents say.
Wasemiller agreed to take part in a clinical skills assessment on Nov. 17-18, 2010. He failed in several areas, including a lack of knowledge for chronic pain patients, documents say.
The board agreed to stay the suspension of Wasemiller's license if he complied with certain terms and conditions, including obtaining a supervising physician and practicing in a group setting.
As of October, Wasemiller was in violation of the terms by continuing to practice solo, board documents say. The board removed the stay on his suspension on Oct. 19 and, after a Nov. 12 hearing in Minneapolis, ordered his license indefinitely suspended on Nov. 22.
The North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners, which disciplined Wasemiller in 1992 based on the Minnesota board's actions, is again following suit.
John M. Olson, attorney for the North Dakota board's investigative panel and a special assistant attorney general, filed a complaint Nov. 22 citing the Minnesota suspension and three corresponding violations of North Dakota law that are grounds for disciplinary action:
* The prescription of controlled substances for purposes other than medically accepted therapeutic purposes.
* A continued pattern of inappropriate care as a physician.
* The lack of proper documentation in medical records.
Wasemiller had 21 days to respond to the complaint, a deadline that has passed. Houdek said Friday he hadn't received a formal response, but he did receive notice that Wasemiller has requested a meeting with the board.
"That's not the process, and he will be so advised," Houdek said.