Arcata City Council opts to send less supportive letter of doctor accused of over-prescribing opioids

Medical board investigating Arcata-based physician

The outside of Dr. Connie Basch’s medical clinic, where she offers alternative pain management methods, such as acupuncture, nutrition guidance and educational opportunities on pain management topics. Basch is being accused of over-prescribing medication to five patients and is facing disciplinary action from the Medical Board of California. (Sonia Waraich — The Times Standard)
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Since Connie Basch’s medical license came under fire earlier this month, the community has rallied behind the doctor and begun sending letters of support to her.

But the Arcata City Council opted to send a more neutral letter about the lack of doctors in the area and what it would mean to lose one at its Wednesday night meeting. The draft letter stated that the area has a severe shortage of doctors and can’t afford to lose one that many residents have come forward to support.

“I’m really touched,” Basch said. “I feel so supported by the community. That’s been so helpful because this whole thing is just hard. Being publicly shamed is challenging.”

Basch said she feels especially supported by the people who have seen the impact of her work over the years.

“I really do live a life of service,” Basch said. “So I feel seen, I guess.”

Carlos Villatoro, the Medical Board of California’s public information manager, said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case because it was still being adjudicated, but that doctors receive 15 days to respond to the accusations and request a hearing.

The board receives complaints about medical professionals from a variety of sources, but refers more serious violations, such as mental impairment and sexual misconduct, to be investigated, Villatoro said.

After that, a series of agencies, including the state attorney general, review the cases and put their stamp of approval on moving forward with charges.

The doctor could reach a settlement or request a hearing to challenge the accusations. Basch said she hired a lawyer and requested a hearing about three weeks ago, but the discovery period, during which both sides gather evidence, was extended until July 12.

Basch said she’s trying to request a second interview where she can clear up the factual inaccuracies in the accusations instead of a hearing because it’s “less expensive.”

“The expense of this whole process is one of the ways it’s a bullying process,” Basch said.

Though the formal accusation against Basch recommends the board suspend or revoke her license, Villatoro said there are other outcomes that depend “on the circumstances the case revolves around,” including being placed on probation or getting a letter of reprimand.

“Any disciplinary action is tailored around the facts,” Villatoro said.

Even probation would end up hurting her patients, Basch said, because it would mean closing down her solo practice.

“I could work for someone else and probably make more money,” Basch said. “But I don’t want to do that. I don’t think that’s actually medicine.”

Real medicine is about forming a healing relationship with patients over time, Basch said, rather than an episodic approach that is focused on patching up the symptoms.

The accusation states that Basch prescribed excessive opioids, didn’t taper patients off of pain medication in a timely manner, failed to keep accurate records and was negligent in other ways.

But Basch said that complaint was based on the records of her five patients with the highest doses of opioid prescriptions and weren’t reflective of the other 14,000 patients she sees. Though she said she hasn’t counted them, Basch said her chronic pain patients amount to more than 50 but fewer than 100 patients.

“I don’t want to defend to the death every decision I’ve made,” Basch said. “I’m sure I’ve made a bad decision. Every doctor does.”

A lot of medicine is “navigating between one terrible harm and another,” Basch said, but she added she feels confident about how she handled those patients’ cases.

Basch said sometimes she reads the complaint and feels depressed, wondering if she did actually make the right choice.

“But then I see that patient again,” Basch said, “and remember why I made the decisions that I made.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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