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Dr. Richard B. Willner’s crusade began seven years ago with an e-mail. In it, Dr. Brian Gale described his battle with the North Dakota Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners. Gale maintained the dispute began when he left another doctor’s practice to begin his own. That doctor sued Gale, and the board filed disciplinary charges against Gale. The resulting ordeal was at the eight-year mark when Willner got involved. By that time, Gale had run through seven attorneys and burned through more than $500,000 in legal fees, only to lose at the state Supreme Court.
“I asked him to send me a copy of the source documents,” Willner said. “He sent me 29 pounds worth. I went through them. I saw he was 100 percent truthful, and I did not understand how a state board could terrorize a licensee. I volunteered to help him.”
Three years later, every board member had resigned from the North Dakota board, Willner said.
“You’ve got a guy, a middle-aged man who said, ‘You know, I don’t really want to do another hammer toe surgery again. I’ve had enough,’” Willner said. “I want to do something better. I want to do something dynamic.”
He founded The Center for Peer Review Justice Inc. The center now has offices in Kenner and Dallas. Eventually he retired as a podiatrist.
Gale’s case was Willner’s first brush with “sham peer review,” he said. These types of actions take place when a hospital or a competitor misuses the fair hearing portion of the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act to silence a whistleblower or run a doctor out of town.
Willner said he has no statistics to show how often the sham reviews occur in Louisiana.
Officials with the Louisiana Hospital Association said they have never heard of sham peer review.
However, a review of 1,000 cases by the Semmelweis Society, a nonprofit formed to battle sham reviews, found that at least 80 percent of those peer reviews were initiated for economic reasons. .....