Georgia medical board dismisses most complaints without taking disciplinary action

(The Center Square) — The Georgia Composite Medical Board routinely dismisses an overwhelming majority of the complaints it receives, but unreliable data make it challenging to say precisely how many cases it closes without taking action.

Additionally, investigators at the agency potentially handle hundreds of cases annually, seemingly leaving them with little time to investigate the volume of complaints.

The Center Square’s findings this spring align with a November 2020 state audit that warned the agency “lacks controls to ensure that reported complaints are sufficiently investigated.” It also revealed Georgia’s disciplinary rate was lower than six other states reviewed as part of the state audit.

Compounding an annual comparison, the board’s annual reports seemingly characterize case adjudications differently from one year to the next, and the 2016 report was not posted on the agency’s website and was not available for inspection.

What do the numbers show?

The Center Square first requested case data on April 8. However, the agency has been unable to provide accurate year-by-year numbers and instead pointed to its annual reports.

Daniel Dorsey, the executive director of the Georgia Composite Medical Board, said the numbers in the annual reports do not make for an accurate comparison, and basing a calculation on the numbers does not paint a complete picture. That’s because a complaint could be filed in one fiscal year and not resolved until another, so it would show up in two different years.

“You can’t really take a look at the discipline and attribute it to the allegation numbers for any one year because you might have an allegation from one year that didn’t have its final disposition until maybe a year later,” Dorsey said.

While Dorsey indicated on April 11 that he would check with the agency’s enforcement staff “to get some numbers,” the agency did not provide accurate numbers.

However, Andrew Isenhour, Gov. Brian Kemp’s deputy director of communications, used the numbers to compare Georgia’s numbers to two other states — Ohio and North Carolina. He said the numbers prove the high percentage of cases closed with no action “is not out of the ordinary or incongruous with other states.”

Does the agency need more investigators?

The agency has five investigator positions to probe the complaints it receives, and it reported more that 2,400 dispositions in fiscal 2021. However, only three investigator positions are currently filled.

In an interview with The Center Square, Dorsey could not say whether the agency needed more investigators or would ask lawmakers next session for funding to hire additional investigators.

“We normally have five agents, but we’ve had some departures recently and with some shifting around, and so we’re trying to get those roles filled right now,” Dorsey told The Center Square. “We’ve got three agents right now. We’ve got two other — one agent is interim director and then we are hiring for another, so in theory, we should have five.”

When asked whether the agency needs additional agents, Dorsey told The Center Square, “If the Legislature wants to give us funding for additional investigators, we’d be happy to have them as a part of the team and to play a role in protecting patients.”

When asked for comment, Isenhour said, “a requisition to hire a sixth has already been made, bringing the number of employees in the unit back to its FY2021 level.”

It is not clear when the “requisition” was made. Dorsey said the agency’s number of investigators has “been around five for the past few years from what I understand.”

The agency’s fiscal 2021 budget was more than $2.9 million, and the agency brought in nearly $7.1 million to the state’s coffers. In an annual report, the agency bragged about its “139.76% return on investment.”

The findings shouldn’t be a surprise to state officials.

The November 2020 state audit found that “improvements are needed to ensure that potential violations are reported, all complaints are sufficiently investigated, and the investigations result in appropriate and consistent disciplinary decisions.”

It also warned, “Complaints are likely underreported, and GCMB lacks controls to ensure that reported complaints are sufficiently investigated.”

Even when fully staffed, investigators do not always interview the person who filed the complaint as part of the investigation. Instead, investigators rely on medical records to establish the “facts” of a case.

Isenhour and Katie Byrd, Kemp’s communications director, did not respond to requests for clarification. Similarly, Emma Johnson, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, did not provide a comment about the board. Efforts to reach the Medical Association of Georgia and the Federation of State Medical Boards for comment were also unsuccessful.

This article was published by The Center Square and is republished here with permission. Click here to view the original.

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The Center Square was launched in May 2019 to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States. The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting. A taxpayer sensibility distinguishes our work from other coverage of state and local issues.