I get many e-mails, letters and phone calls from doctors, nurses and others who have been abused by “professional health programs” (PHPs). Most do not want their letters published for fear of being identified and punished by the PHP. They are reluctant to do so even with their names and states removed as they feel their complaints alone could reveal their identity to they prying eyes of the PHP. A few have allowed their letters to be posted and I am doing so here: Letters From Those Abused and Afraid
I am posting Dr. Roop’s letter below at his request. He specifically stated his name and contact information be included. I applaud his courage. As was the case with the Inquisition, this is system that relies, above all else, on secrecy and silence.
Effective “Impression management” requires both promoting positive information and suppressing negative information.
The “PHP-blueprint” has been effectively propagandized via a back-slapping parade of congratulatory misinformation; a promotional campaign that includes exaggeration of the existence and dangers of the doctors they target as well as their inflated abilities and success in “helping” these doctors and protecting the public. Aimed at the legal, regulatory, and administrative arenas of medicine as well as the the general public, the PHP moral crusade has flourished without any meaningful opposition.
Suppression of negative information is necessary and involves both removal ( comments critical of PHPs are rapidly removed as spam) and prevention. One way of preventing negative information is by silencing critics. Those enrolled in PHP programs who speak out often suffer “swift and certain consequences” and this effectively silences the rest.
The stories are the same and these patterns must be recognized.
Doctors are vulnerable to medical abuse, just like any other patient. Their knowledge of medicine and the medical system, means that they question, as they should, the validity and appropriateness of any treatment. It has long been proven that patients that question their doctor’s decisions and the quality of the care provided to them, fare better and have better outcomes and are less subject to medical error or medical fraud.
The Physicians Health Program is based on a flawed philosophy that Doctors must be beaten down, forced to be submissive and obedient to PHP authority who intimidate and control, deny access to services, impose punishments, and even create criminal records with impunity and immunity.
Once in the clutches of a PHP a doctor is told – obey us, or lose your license, your hospital privileges, your credit rating, your good reputation – obey us no matter what we tell you to do.
If you stand up to them, they take you down, very publicly and humiliate you, and destroy your career and good name. Then no other doctor who saw the retaliation that happened to you is willing to buck the PHP system. It is essentially extortion.
These doctors told her that they had a plan to kill themselves if a PHP “peer counselor” came anywhere near them – they meant it.
3 doctors in the Washington PHP did commit suicide during the period of time when she was interviewing the WPHP referred doctors. Last year a doctor I went to high school with and have known since childhood hanged himself due to the abuses of the Washington PHP. HIs crime? He was pulled over for speeding five years prior after having a few drinks at a social function. He was given a breathalyzer and blew just over the legal limit–his entry ticket into the system Dr. Roop describes below. As is often the case, he was given a positive alcohol biomarker just as he was about to complete the five-year PHP contract This results in re-assessment at a “PHP-approved” facility, a new contract with the PHP and another five-years of drug and alcohol testing all paid for out of-pocket.
There is no evidential standard used and false accusations and even forged documents are routinely used against the targeted doctor. Physicians are ill prepared for such criminal tactics used against them, by the time they realize it is happening, it is too late to stop the inevitable process that threatens their medical license. This is very emotionally traumatic to doctors who have always excelled in their schooling, worked hard to get where they are, and are facing the loss of not only their professional careers but also financial security, their self esteem and self concept.
Comment: I am Board Certified in Internal medicine. I have endured years of emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse at the hands of the Washington Physician’s Health Program. I have suffered through a long list of injustices without recourse. They include, but are not limited to discrimination, abuse of power, breach of contract and repeated and WILLFUL medical negligence.
Because the actions of the WPHP have been SO egregious, I assumed what was happening to me must be extraordinarily rare.
I have nothing to hide. And I have shared my story with any and all who would listen. To date, my voice, my rights and now my life have been dismissed as unimportant. MY LIFE!! It’s apparently better that I die than my tormentors be questioned and compelled to defend their indefensible and evil behavior.
I am meeting with one last attorney tomorrow. I fully expect him to ignore the basic, indisputable and well documented facts of my case. Namely, there is massive and systematic malfeasance being committed by a tax payer funded agency in the State of Washington who act with omnipotence and without oversight. I have no reason to believe he will respond any differently than the others with whom I have met. HE WON’T CARE! HE WILL NOT BE MOVED. He will make statements that suggest I DESERVE this treatment. And that my life, as well as my imminent death, is unworthy of his time or efforts.
Once my assumptions about this last meeting are officially confirmed, I am committed to the only course of action available to me. The only thing which will put an end to this nightmare.
Today I stumbled upon your website. And today, for the first time, I have learned that my case is not rare. I suspect the other physician victims in this matter have occasionally allowed themselves to dream wistfully of justice. Justice which they have seen thwarted at every turn. Perhaps they, like me, have dreamily imagined the relief and joy and LIFE they would experience if the truth were simply presented and the perpetrators held accountable. I have imagined standing up in court and triumphantly affecting justice for myself as well as all of the other current and future victims. I deliver a powerful defense of justice. My ‘dream speech’. I have imagined that I might still live. And then I wake up.
And so today, imagine my shock, when I found my ‘dream speech’ here. My speech. Reasonable. Honest. Consistent. And based firmly in truth, justice and defense of the powerless against the (arbitrarily) powerful. My speech, it seemed, but authored by another.
Thank you, Dr. Langan. You have given a voice to my struggles. Please never stop speaking for me, and people like me, many of whom, I fear, will not survive to see justice.
So, because I do WANT to live…PLEASE HELP ME, SIR!
Can you refer me to attorneys, individuals or groups who might advocate for me and the other victims? Do you have any specific words of hope or encouragement?
Please note my name. Please add me to the list of innocent victims of these power hungry, narcissistic BULLIES.
I don’t expect to live through this. And in a way, the PHP, Talbott and the addiction ‘experts’ with whom I have been tragically acquainted are correct…My life is worth very little. But this issue is so much larger than I. I can die with some serenity if I believe there will be meaningful justice for others like me. And that those responsible will be held to account.
Thank you Dr. Langan. Thanks to all of those involved in the creation and maintenance of this website. Although your shining beacon is barely perceivable through the darkness of injustice which surrounds and seeks to extinguish it…it is the only glimmer of hope I have found during my slow death by PHP.
Although no reliable statistics exist, anecdotal reports suggest an alarming upsurge in physician suicide. This necessitates a reappraisal of known predisposing risk factors such as substance abuse and depression but also requires a critical examination of what external forces or vulnerabilities might be unique to doctors and how they might be involved in the descent from suicidal ideation to suicidal planning to completed suicide.
Depression and Substance Abuse Comparable to General Population
Depression and substance abuse are the two biggest risk factors for suicide. The prevalence of depression in physicians is close to that of the general population 1,2 and, if one looks critically at the evidence based literature, substance abuse in medical professionals approximates that of the general population. Controlled studies using DSM diagnostic criteria suggest that physicians have the same rates (8-14%) of substance abuse and dependence as the rest of the population 3 and slightly lower rates compared to other occupations.4,5 Epidemiological surveys reveal the same. Hughes, et al.6 found a lifetime prevalence of drug or alcohol abuse or dependence in physicians of 7.9%, markedly less than the 14.6% prevalence reported in the general population by Kessler.7
State Physician Health Programs
Perhaps it is how physicians are treated differently when they develop a substance abuse or mental health problem.
Physician Health Programs (PHP) can be considered an equivalent to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for other occupations. PHPs meet with, assess and monitor doctors who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems. Originally developed as “impaired physician” programs, the PHPs were created to help doctors who developed problems with substance abuse or addiction an alternative to disciplinary action by State Medical Boards. These programs existed in almost every state by 1980. Often staffed by volunteer physicians and funded State Medical Societies, these programs served the dual purpose of helping sick colleagues and protecting the public. Preferring rehabilitation to probation or license revocation so long as the public was protected from imminent danger, most medical boards accepted the concept with support and referrals. Most EAPs were developed with the collaboration of workers unions or some other group supporting the rights and interests of the workers. As there is no such organization representing doctors, PHPs developed in the absence of regulation or oversight. As a consequence there is no meaningful accountability.
“Because PHP practices are unknown to most physicians before becoming a client of the PHP, many PHPs operate out- side the scrutiny of the medical community at large. Physicians referred to PHPs are often compromised to some degree, have very little power, and are, therefore, not in a position to voice what might be legitimate objections to a PHP’s practices.”8
Noting that “for most physicians, participation in a PHP evaluation is coercive, and once a PHP recommends monitoring, physicians have little choice but to cooperate with any and all recommendations if they wish to continue practicing medicine,” Knight and Boyd raise serious ethical and managerial questions about current PHP policies and practice including conflicts of interest in referrals for evaluation and treatment, lack of adherence to standards of care for forensic testing of substances of abuse, violations of ethical guidelines in PHP research, and conflicts of interest with state licensing boards.
Knight and Boyd recommend “that the broader medical community begin to reassess PHP’s as a whole” and that “consideration be given toward the implementation of independent ethical oversight and establish and appeals process for PHP clients who feel they are being treated unfairly.” 8 They also recommend the relationship of PHP’s between the evaluation and treatment centers and licensing boards be transparent and that national organizations review PHP practices and recommend national standards “that can be debated by all physicians, not just those who work within PHPs.”8 Unfortunately this has not happened. Most physicians have no idea that the state physician health programs have been taken over by the “impaired physicians movement.”
As with Knight and Boyd’s paper outlining the ethical and managerial problems in PHPs, the NC PHP audit finding that abuse could occur and not be detected generated little interest from either the medical community or the media.
Although state PHPs present themselves as confidential caring programs of benevolence they are essentially monitoring programs for physicians who can be referred to them for issues such as being behind on chart notes. If the PHP feels a doctor is in need of PHP “services” they must then abide by any and all demands of the PHP or be reported to their medical board under threat of loss of licensure.
LDTs bypass the FDA approval process and have no meaningful regulatory oversight. The LDT pathway was not designed for “forensic” tests but clinical tests with low risk. Some are arguing for regulation and oversight of LDTs due to questionable validity and risk of patient harm.13
These same physicians are claiming a high success rate for PH programs9 and suggesting that they be used for random testing of all physicians.14
As with LDTs, the state PHPs are unregulated, and without oversight. State medical societies and departments of health have no control over state PHPs.
Their opacity is bolstered by peer-review immunity, HIPPA, HCQIA, and confidentiality agreements. The monitored physician is forced to abide by any and all demands of the PHP no matter how unreasonable-all under the coloration of medical utility and without any evidentiary standard or right to appeal.
State PHPs are non-profit non-governmental organizations and have been granted quasi-governmental immunity by most State legislatures from legal liability.
By infiltrating “impaired physician” programs they have established themselves in almost every state by joining, gaining power, and removing dissenters. Groupthink and 12-step indoctrination are the goals. By advertising as advocates for doctors who are “caring,” “confidential resources,” “giving help,” and advocating for “colleagues in need” the outward appearance is one of benevolence.
The biggest obstacle is that this system allows them to throw the normal rules of conduct under the imperative of a higher goal assumed to trump all other consideration. Those outside of programs either defend or ignore the reports of ethical and criminal violations, complacent in their trust of these “experts” claiming they are just helping sick doctors and protecting the public.
With no oversight or regulatory body involved this is all done with impunity, immunity, and undercover. They use the accusation of substance abuse as an indication to disregard the claims of the accused. The physician is left without rights, depersonalized, and dehumanized. The imposition of confinement, stigmatization, lack of oversight of the organizations, peer-review protected confidentiality, and lack of procedural protection is a one-way train to hopelessness and despair.
By establishing a system that of coercion, control, secrecy, and misinformation, the FSPHP is claiming an “80% success rate” 15and deeming the “PHP-blueprint” as “the new paradigm in addiction medicine treatment.
The ASAM/FSPHP had a major influence on the DSM-V where drug abuse and dependence are no longer separate entities. They are also working behind the scenes to get legislation to randomly drug test all physicians.
They are now after the “disruptive physician” and the evidentiary criteria are fairly low and red flags include “deviating from workplace norm in dress or conduct” and being tardy for meetings.
They have identified “the aging physician” as a potential problem because “as the population of physicians ages,””cognitive functioning” becomes “a more common threat to the quality of medical care.”
The majority of physicians are unaware that the Federation of State Medical Boards House of Delegates adopted an updated Policy on Physician Impairment in 2011 that uses addiction as an example of a “potentially impairing illness.” According to the Federation of State Physician Health Programs …”physician illness and impairment exist on a continuum with illness typically predating impairment, often by many years. This is a critically important distinction. Illness is the existence of a disease. Impairment is a functional classification and implies the inability of the person affected by disease to perform specific activities.”
“Process addiction” was added as a potentially impairing illness including compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, compulsive video gaming, and “workaholism.” According to the FSPHP “the presence of a process addiction can be problematic or even impairing in itself, and it can contribute to relapse of a physician in recovery. As such, process addictions should be identified and treated.” They define three levels of relapse including the novel “relapse without use.”
Bullying, Helplessness, Hopelessness and Despair
Perceived helplessness is significantly associated with suicide.16 So too is hopelessness, and the feeling that no matter what you do there is simply no way out17,18 Bullying is known to be a predominant trigger for adolescent suicide19-21 One study found that adolescents in custody who were bullied were 9.22 times more likely to attempt suicide than those were not bullied.22
Heightened perceptions of defeat and entrapment are known to be powerful contributors to suicide.23,24 The “Cry of Pain” model 25,26 specifies that people are particularly prone to suicide when life experiences are interpreted as signaling defeat which is defined as a sense of “failed struggle” or loss of social position and resources.. The person is unable to identify an escape from or resolution to a defeating situation, a sense of entrapment proliferates with the perception of no way out, and this provides the central impetus for ending ones life.
There is also evidence that rescue factors such as social supports may play a role in preventing suicide. These rescue factors act buffers to protect against suicide in the face of varying degrees of life stress.27,28 The study of female physicians revealed meetings to discuss stressful work experiences as a potential protective factor, 29 and support at work when difficulties arose appeared to be a protective factor for the male physicians.30 Research involving Finnish physicians found that control over one’s work and organizational justice were the most important determinants of work-related wellbeing.31,32 Organizational justice is related to fairness and refers to an individuals perception of an organizations behaviors, decisions, and actions and how these influence one’s own attitudes and behaviors and has been identified as a psychosocial predictor of health and wellbeing3334 Low organizational justice has been identified as a notable risk factor for psychological distress and depression.35,36
A recent report indicates that job stress, coupled with inadequate treatment for mental illness may play a role in physician suicide..
Using data from the National Violent Death Reporting System the investigators compared 203 physicians who had committed suicide to more than 31,000 non-physicians and found that having a known mental health disorder or a job problem that contributed to the suicide significantly predicted being a physician.1
Physicians were 3.12 times more likely to have a job problem as a contributing factor. In addition, toxicology testing showed low rates of medication treatment. The authors concluded that inadequate treatment and increased problems related to job stress are potentially modifiable risk factors to reduce suicidal death among physicians.
They also warned that the database used likely underestimated physician suicides because of “underreporting and even deliberate miscoding because of the stigma attached.”
I can think of nothing more institutionally unjust than an unregulated zero-tolerance monitoring program with no oversight using unregulated drug and alcohol testing of unknown validity.
We have heard of numerous suicides due to these institutionally unjust programs. Three doctors died by suicide in Oklahoma in a one month period alone (August 2014). All three were being monitored by the Oklahoma PHP. I went to an all boys high-school of less than 350 students yet a classmate a couple years ahead of me died by suicide a few months ago. He was being monitored by the Washington PHP. His crime? A DUI in 2009–a one-off situational mistake that in all likelihood would never have recurred. But as is often the case with those ensnared by state PHPs he was forced to have a “re-assessment” as his five-year monitoring contract was coming to an end. These re-assessments are often precipitated by a positive Laboratory Developed Test (LDT) and state medical boards mandate these assessments can only be done at an out-of-state “PHP-approved” facility. Told he could no longer operate and was unsafe to practice medicine by the PHP and assessment center he then hanged himself. And at the conclusion of Dr. Pamela Wible’s haunting video below are listed just the known suicides of doctors; many were being monitored by their state PHPs–including the first name on the list– Dr. Gregory Miday.
None of these deaths were investigated. None were covered in the mainstream media. These are red flags that need to be acknowledged and addressed! This anecdotal evidence suggests the oft-used estimate of 400 suicides per year (an entire medical school class) is a vast underestimation of reality—extrapolating just the five deaths above to the entire population of US doctors suggests we are losing at least an entire medical school per year.
As physicians we need to demand transparency, oversight, regulation and auditing by outside groups. This is a public health emergency.
They first came after the substance abusers and I did not speak out because I was not a substance abuser.
They then came for those with psychiatric diagnoses and I did not speak out because I was not diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
They then came after the “disruptive physician” and I did not speak out because I was not disruptive.
They then came after the aging physician and I did not speak out because I was young.
They then came after me and there was no one else to speak out for me.
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