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Fallout Continues Over Governor's Role In Surgeon's Case

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Dr. Steven Anagnost discusses the state medical board’s lengthy investigation of patient complaints against him. ADAM FORGASH / The Frontier Dr. Steven Anagnost discusses the state medical board’s lengthy investigation of patient complaints against him. ADAM FORGASH / The Frontier

by Ziva Branstetter, ReadFrontier.com

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday that lengthy delays — not a call from Texas Gov. Rick Perry — prompted Fallin's intervention two years ago in a Tulsa surgeon’s disciplinary case.

But records show some of the delays in Dr. Steven Anagnost’s case before the state medical board were due to his own legal maneuvers or factors outside the board's control. Anagnost fought release of his internal hospital file to the board and allegedly harassed a surgeon cooperating with the investigation against him, court records show.

Meanwhile, the state spent months searching for an out-of-state expert witness willing to take on the complex case involving 23 patient complaints.

The statement Thursday by Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, was among several developments that followed a seven-month investigation by The Frontier into how the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision handled Anagnost’s disciplinary case:

•           Oklahoma Democratic Party chairman Mark Hammons called on state or federal authorities to investigate whether Fallin’s involvement in Anagnost’s case violated any laws or ethics rules.

•           Weintz reiterated that the governor did not dictate the outcome of Anagnost’s disciplinary case before the medical board. “They absolutely were not told to drop it by anyone in our office,” Weintz said. “They were told to resolve it.”

•           Fallin's general counsel, Steve Mullins, said a memo by a medical board adviser did not accurately describe what Mullins said about Anagnost's case. The memo said the staff believed Mullins wanted the board's action against the doctor dropped.

•           Critics of a proposal to allow the governor to appoint all state agency heads said the outcome of Anagnost’s case shows why it’s a bad idea.

The Frontier reviewed thousands of pages of records related to Anagnost’s case before the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision as well as 45 negligence lawsuits against him. The Tulsa-based surgeon, 48, received his Oklahoma medical license in 1999.

The Oklahoma medical board filed a complaint in July 2012 accusing him of violations involving 23 patients: performing surgeries in which patients died or were paralyzed, and charging patients for surgeries not performed.

While the allegations are among the most serious made by the board against a doctor, Anagnost signed a settlement agreement with the board a year later in which he kept his license and admitted no guilt.

He returned to practice five months later and is currently performing surgeries at a hospital in Tahlequah and a Tulsa pain management center. Anagnost no longer has admitting privileges at Hillcrest Medical Center, where he treated patients for several years.

Part I Of The Frontier Report

Part II Of The Frontier Report

In multiple interviews with The Frontier, Anagnost has described the state’s investigation as a coordinated attack by the board, competing spine surgeons and malpractice attorneys who were part of the investigation and stood to gain from the board’s action. Claims by the former patients and allegations in dozens of lawsuits against him have no merit, he said.

The state's three-year investigation cost not only money but his reputation, Anagnost said.

“I’ve spent a tremendous amount of money, which I would rather save for my family, my kids,” he said.

While saying he’s “not perfect,” Anagnost said, “I’m also not a bad doctor.”

He said statistics produced by an expert he hired show his patients' outcomes are above average. However those statistics are based on the doctor's hospital records, which he fought to prevent the state from accessing.

Anagnost could not be reached for additional comment concerning calls for an investigation into alleged political meddling in his disciplinary case. He has rejected the notion that the board agreed to settle his case due to political pressure.

Officials with the medical board have declined to comment on his case, citing lawsuits the doctor has filed against the board.

Former state lawmaker Joe Dorman said the state’s disciplinary action against Anagnost shows why a new proposal to allow the governor to appoint agency heads could cause problems. Dorman, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor last year, said he has voted against such legislation in the past.

Some state agency heads, including the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision's director, are selected by boards whose members are appointed by legislative leaders and the governor.

“I debated against that bill when it came up and fought it tooth and nail. … If there are no checks and balances in place, it is scary what could actually happen,” Dorman said. “They will serve at the political pleasure of a person who relies on campaign donations.”

Read the rest of the story on The Frontier.

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