Thursday, March 6, 2003

Suspended doctors scrutinized

Ohio medical authorities check after pair barred in Ky.

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio medical authorities are looking closely at the suspension of two Tristate doctors' medical licenses in Kentucky.

"We are very aware of the activity going on down there (in Kentucky), and we will be looking at it to see if there is a basis for action here (in Ohio)," said Lauren Lubow, spokeswoman for the State Medical Board of Ohio. "We have a very good network for sharing information with the Kentucky board."

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure on Feb. 7 issued an emergency order of suspension for Dr. Ghassan Haj-Hamed, 37, of Clifton and Dr. Juan C. Mejia, 39, of Springfield Township after receiving a complaint from an undercover narcotics agent with the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

An emergency order is issued when "a physician's practice constitutes a danger to the health, welfare and safety of his patients or the general public," according Kentucky board officials on Wednesday.

Mejia has privileges at Good Samarian Hospital in Cincinnati, where he answered a page Wednesday afternoon.

Mejia said he practices internal medicine at the hospital, but he refused to answer any other questions.

Hospital spokesman Joe Kelley said Good Samaritan has a practice of not divulging specifics regarding individual doctors.

"I must add, however, we have mechanisms in place to monitor doctors' care of patients here, including their prescribing patterns," Kelley said. "But it is difficult for us to monitor what a physician does in his private practice."

He described the allegations against Mejia in Kentucky as a "serious situation" that the hospital will closely monitor. It is unclear if Haj-Hamed is practicing medicine in Ohio.

The Kentucky board lists Haj-Hamed as co-owning an Urgent Care Center in Oakley and operating a Riverside Medical Care Clinic in Fairfield.

Mejia and Haj-Hamed were inappropriately prescribing controlled substances, including OxyContin, at practices in Bellevue, Falmouth and Cold Spring co-owned by Haj-Hamed, according to the Kentucky board's 10-page complaint against them.

The abuse was so bad, the Kentucky board alleges, pharmacists from one of the nation's largest drug store chains and from a local neighborhood apothecary began refusing to fill prescriptions written by the doctors' practices in Kentucky.

"It does not appear that the legitimate practice of medicine is occurring in the practice of Dr. Haj-Hamed and Dr. Mejia," one Kentucky board investigator wrote in the complaint. "It would appear that Dr. Mejia is slightly better with documentation and ordering diagnostic tests but neither really follow up once they have been requested. I do not believe that controlled substances were prescribed for legitimate medical purposes."

Haj-Hamed is appealing the suspension. A hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. March 14 at the board's headquarters in Louisville.


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