UPDATE FROM NEWS 9: The Oklahoma Democratic Party will hold press conference Thursday, November 5, to call for investigation into the conduct of Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt as a result of this report.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn’t happy when Oklahoma authorities wanted to revoke the medical license of a Tulsa surgeon accused of performing operations that left patients paralyzed, in perpetual pain – or dead.
So Perry made a phone call to Gov. Mary Fallin and soon afterward, a three-year, $600,000 state investigation came to an end.
The surgeon, Dr. Steven Anagnost, still practices in Tulsa and other locations in the state. The Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure had been trying since 2010 to revoke his license. A memo recently obtained by The Frontier reveals that Perry called Fallin, a fellow Republican, on Anagnost’s behalf.
Perry was governor of Texas at the time and preparing for his second ill-fated run for the GOP presidential nomination. A few years earlier, Perry had received a campaign contribution from Anagnost and from the man who called Perry on the surgeon’s behalf, the father of Agnost’s childhood friend.
When Fallin’s general counsel, Steve Mullins, met with key staff members at the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision in March 2013, Perry’s intervention was part of the discussion.
“He (Mullins) told us that he wasn’t here to interfere with the work of the board but Gov. Fallin didn’t want any more calls from Rick Perry about this, that Gov. Perry said it was a travesty and what would it take to make it go away,” Dr. Eric Frische, the medical board’s medical advisor, later wrote in a memo.
The memo detailing Perry’s phone call was among thousands of pages of records obtained by The Frontier from Anagnost. It is among the records gathered by the state and Oklahoma Bar Association during its investigation.
A Perry spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Mullins, through a spokesman, declined comment.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, confirmed the governor’s office intervened in the case but said Fallin was “agnostic” on its outcome.
“Our office, through Steve Mullins, communicated that basically they needed to either act against Anagnost or drop the case. … We just didn’t want a state agency to have a case that was open ended and went on for years,” he said.
The Oklahoma medical board first launched an investigation into Anagnost, 48, in 2010. It eventually filed a complaint accusing him of serious violations involving 23 patients: performing surgeries in which patients died or were paralyzed, or charging for surgeries not performed. Other accusations involved failed surgeries in which Anagnost implanted a spinal device that he was paid to promote.
At the time, Anagnost had been named in dozens of malpractice lawsuits and had settled several cases by paying out of his own pocket instead of through his medical liability insurance.
However he rejects all claims of negligence, saying a handful of bad patient outcomes were due to factors beyond his control.
Interview With Dr. Steven Anagnost
Case 'too far along to just go away'
For Alyson King, news of Anagnost’s settlement with the state was incomprehensible.
She didn’t know about the call from Perry or the visit from Fallin’s attorney to the medical board.
King said she awoke from a 2007 surgery by Anagnost unable to feel most of her left leg and foot. The 45-year-old Tulsan, a mother of three children, is among the patients who filed complaints with the state and among more than 40 plaintiffs who sued Anagnost for negligence.
The lawsuit alleges that Anagnost caused permanent neurological injury to her leg and left her with a condition known as foot drop. Her lawsuit states she has frequent pain from the “multiple inappropriate and negligent” surgeries performed by Anagnost.
When told recently of the involvement of two governors in Anagnost’s case, King said: “I’m sick to my stomach.”
“I feel like the medical board’s job is to protect patients, and I personally would like to know that future patients are safe,” she said.
King’s claims about Anagnost, 48, are not unique. At least five patients have claimed one or both legs were paralyzed after the Tulsa surgeon operated on them, records show.
Despite Mullins’ statements that Fallin didn’t want to interfere, the board’s investigation of Anagnost took a decidedly different turn after that 2013 meeting.
“After Mr. Mullins left we talked among ourselves and with reluctance we considered our options, realizing that we had been told to try and get rid of the case,” Frische’s memo states. “We began to work on an agreement that involved the doctor not agreeing to any guilt.”
Frische and other staff at the medical board declined to comment for this story.
Anagnost recently told The Frontier that he agreed to the settlement instead of demanding a hearing based on his attorney’s advice. He said he regrets that decision and has filed lawsuits to overturn the settlement, which are ongoing.
“The board has their tactics well sharpened,” Anagnost said. “They’ve done this many a time.”
Anagnost rejects the notion that his political connections and Perry’s intervention had anything to do with the outcome of the board’s investigation.
“If the board believed that to be true and the attorney general knows about that, then the attorney general has an obligation to pursue it. That’s borderline criminal,” he said.
Though he agreed to settle the investigation in 2013, Anagnost’s case is far from over.
It has moved back to the courts, with Anagnost seeking to overturn the settlement he agreed to, saying the board’s own records prove its process was biased. He is suing four Tulsa neurosurgeons who took part in the board’s investigation, the state medical board, several board staff members and attorneys who helped the board.
Though some defendants have been dismissed, Anagnost has appealed rulings in the case.
At one recent hearing in Oklahoma County District Court, 17 attorneys from some of the state’s top law firms appeared before an exasperated judge to represent Anagnost and all of the parties he is suing. The judge is the third to handle Anagnost’s lawsuit seeking to throw out his settlement agreement.
In court filings, attorneys for the board and the neurosurgeons who took part in the investigation have denied Anagnost’s claims of a biased process.
Interview With Alyson King
For the more details and the complete story visit our partner The Frontier.