Alice W. Lee, M.D., a holistic psychiatrist practicing in Olney, Maryland, has successfully defeated the Maryland Board of Physicians and protected her legal right to continue practicing orthomolecular psychiatry and energy medicine.
After a raging, two-year battle in the Maryland courts and at the administrative level, Dr. Lee delivered a crushing legal defeat to the Board in three ways. First, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Geraldine A. Klauber, of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, dismissed most of the charges by the Maryland Board against Dr. Lee, stating that as a matter of law, the Board of Physicians could not prosecute the practice of alternative medicine and energy medicine through the peer review process. To keep the prosecution alive, the Board grasped at straws and charged Dr. Lee with violating the ‘standard of care’ of one patient only. Second, after a three-day trial, the ALJ wrote a 50-page decision, stating that the Board had no legal grounds to prosecute Dr. Lee in the first place, having failed to define what the ‘standard of care’ was, let alone convince her of any violations of the same. And third, as of February 5, 2009, the Board issued its final decision to dismiss all charges against Dr. Lee without any conditions or probation. This complete dismissal of a case by the Maryland Board has set a new precedent and is the first decision of its kind in the history of the State of Maryland for a holistic physician.
Mr. Jacques Simon, the lead attorney in this case, brilliantly executed the legal defense and assault against the Board on behalf of Dr. Lee through the proceedings in the state courts and at the administrative level. With national legal expertise in protecting integrative medicine and physicians who practice cutting edge medicine, he defeated the Maryland Board in its efforts to quash alternative medicine, which efforts were marred by legal and constitutional deficiencies. Mr. Alan Dumoff, an attorney practicing in Maryland, added many years of additional experience, acumen, and skill in defending alternative medicine as he supported Mr. Simon and Dr. Lee on this case as the local counsel.
Also supporting Dr. Lee during the administrative proceedings as expert witnesses were Hyla Cass, M.D., a renowned holistic psychiatrist and author, and Michael Spodak, M.D., Chairman of the Peer Review Committee, with twenty years of experience on the statewide peer review committee. Both were instrumental in the successful defeat of the Board’s intent to punish Dr. Lee for practicing ‘outside the standard of care’ , or, in other words, using nutritional supplements and energy medicine to help a patient to successfully reduce prescription medication use.
The Maryland Board began the peer review proceedings against Dr. Lee after receiving a letter of complaint from a patient’s ex-partner (April, 2005), who had never been involved in the patient’s treatment. The ex-partner had had a hostile relationship with the patient and objected to the patient’s preference for integrative medicine. The patient immediately wrote a letter to the Board to ask them to drop all proceedings against Dr. Lee, clarifying all misrepresentations in the ex-partner’s letter of complaint. However, the Maryland Board chose to ignore the patient’s request and moved forward with the peer review proceedings in August, 2006. Significantly, in an apparent attempt to block access to important information from the patient and to minimize the importance of the patient’s satisfaction with Dr. Lee’s medical care, the Board prohibited the state peer reviewers from interviewing the patient. It decided to do so under the pretense that interviewing the patient might trigger additional medical complications. That position was dismissed and laughed at outright by the lead peer reviewer in the case, Michael Spodak, M.D. He stated that the Board’s position was insulting to the peer reviewers, who routinely treated such conditions and knew how to interview psychiatric patients without causing further medical complications.
Because the first two peer reviewers differed in their opinions about the case, a third peer reviewer was called in to break the tie. This third peer reviewer revealed during the administrative hearings that he had a significant conflict of interest in this case, as he had been the last treating physician before Dr. Lee took over treatment. In fact, he was the attending physician who provided treatment during the patient’s last hospitalization: the very treatment that the patient rejected in favor of orthomolecular psychiatry. He expressed in court that he personally felt that he did not have a conflict of interest in this case and thus he did not feel compelled to disclose this information to the Board. This peer reviewer kept his involvement in the patient’s treatment a secret, until questioning during the cross examination forced him to reveal this embarrassing fact. None of the peer reviewers had any training or clinical experience in orthomolecular psychiatry or energy medicine. However, this did not prevent two of them from believing that they could judge a holistic psychiatrist’s treatment decisions, and they proceeded to do so without any consideration for or understanding of the role of nutrition in mental health.
The Board’s efforts to marshal a legally flawed case against Dr. Lee included, but were not limited to: (1) not interviewing the patient, (2) deliberately and repeatedly misrepresenting the patient’s psychiatric condition under Dr. Lee’s care in its own papers and documents given to the peer reviewers and subsequently made available during the discovery process, (3) lying about agreement among its own peer reviewers when none existed, and (4) trying to prevent Dr. Spodak from testifying. Despite these various manipulations, the Board failed in its attempt to support any of its charges, and the ALJ was clearly unconvinced by the Board as demonstrated by her complete dismissal of all charges on September 11, 2008.
The Maryland Board, however, had a history of ignoring the ALJ’s decisions regarding alternative medicine practices if they conflicted with the Board’s agenda. In addition, over the years, the Maryland Board had developed a reputation of being hostile towards holistic medicine and was notorious for removing licenses from clinicians practicing integrative medicine in Maryland despite dismissal of the charges by the ALJ. In this case, the Board was fully prepared to eliminate Dr. Lee’s practice as was its habit and routine. During the administrative hearing, the Board presented to the ALJ a multi-page document, outlining a list of punitive measures intended for her. In this case, however, Dr. Lee was also suing them in civil court for violation of her due process rights. With the involvement of the civil courts, the Maryland Board, for the first time, had to answer to judges and laws outside of the administrative setting. Although the courts initially allowed the administrative process to unfold before hearing the due process violations complaints, the Board knew very well that Dr. Lee was determined to continue her fight against the Board in the civil courts based upon the legal grounds which she had won as a result of the ALJ’s decision. Without any evidence to support their charges before the civil courts, and lacking any legal grounds for charges according to the ALJ, the Maryland Board had little choice but to finally, and very begrudgingly, dismiss all charges on February 5, 2009,
In light of all the challenges that had to be faced in order to win this case, it is truly a victory to be celebrated. As in the fictional Harry Potter’s win against overwhelming odds, Dr. Lee defended integrative medicine against a state organization that had every advantage, and yet won, hands down. It is hoped that announcing this victory will give further encouragement to all those interested in the progress of integrative medicine.
Dr. Lee is grateful for all the help and support from family, friends, and other integrative clinicians and doctors who have helped through advice, time, money, and emotional support throughout the years.
February 23, 2009