Army doctor suspended at Madigan claims retaliation

SEATTLE — A 15-year veteran Army doctor has been suspended for alleged problems with patient care, but Dr. Russel Hicks said the suspension is retaliation for providing information on Madigan Army Medical Center’s troubled PTSD diagnosis program to investigators.

The psychiatrist was suspended in January from his hospital duties because he allegedly practiced outside the scope of his clinical privileges and did not properly document patient records. During an initial investigation that could last a month or more, he must refrain from any diagnosis, prescriptions, charting or treatment, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

Hicks, in a letter to Madigan’s credential’s committee, said he believes the actions were in retaliation for information he offered Army investigators who last year examined diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the hospital.

Hicks shared the documents detailing his suspension with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

“We are absolutely looking into this and will be making an inquiry with the Army,” said Matt McAlvanah, a spokesman for the democrat.

The Jan. 17 memorandum sent to Hicks does not detail any specifics about the allegations against the doctor or how his conduct posed a risk to patients.

Hicks, in his response to the memorandum, said the suspension was the first time he was informed of any problems with his care, and that he was concerned his removal from practice could disrupt the care of some of his patients addicted to painkillers.

Madigan officials, citing federal privacy laws that protect employees, said they could not comment on the decision to temporarily remove Hicks from practice. They said such actions arise from an effort to protect patients.

“Madigan command has an obligation to ensure patient safety and the delivery of the highest quality care to all our beneficiaries. Anytime a concern is raised about patient safety or the quality of care, we have an obligation to act,” said Col. Dallas Homas, Madigan’s commander.

Hick’s suspension is the latest development in a turbulent 12-month period for Madigan behavioral-health staff members, who treat soldiers who return from war with PTSD and other mental-health problems. Last year, the Army launched investigations into how Madigan staff screen PTSD patients under consideration for medical retirement. During that investigation, two doctors were temporarily barred from clinical duties.

The diagnosis of PTSD has become a critical issue in the military in the aftermath of a 2008 change in law that mandated soldiers unable to serve due to the disability be qualified for medical retirement with pension and other benefits.

Madigan set up a team of forensic psychiatrists to screen patients under consideration for such retirements and ferret out soldiers who might be malingering. The team reversed more than 300 PTSD diagnoses.

But the forensic screening team was suspended and then permanently curtailed last year. Many patients underwent re-evaluations that reinstated PTSD diagnoses.

Hicks is a retired Army colonel and a former psychiatry department chairman. He headed up an intensive outpatient treatment program for PTSD. The circumstances of the program’s 2010 closure were part of last year’s Army investigations.

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