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Medical Boards Let Physicians Practice Despite Drug Abuse

"It never even occurred to me that a doctor would be allowed to continue practicing if he had any drug history," Rodriguez said. "If a more serious penalty or punishment would have come down on him sooner, perhaps he wouldn't have continued" practicing.

Jones, 51, settled the case with Rodriguez for an undisclosed amount.

Kim Gardiner suffered a dislocated jaw after undergoing ear surgery performed by John F. Pholeric Jr., who has had a cocaine addiction. (Erik S. Lesser For The Washington Post)

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The Virginia medical board suspended him only after he pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in federal court in Virginia, was sentenced in July 2001 to 30 months in federal prison and ordered by the court to surrender his medical license for three years.

But in September 2003 -- two years and two months after he was sentenced -- the Virginia board gave Jones his license back.

After the incidents at Loudoun Hospital Center, Jones received support from the group that oversees physicians with substance abuse problems and from a hospital official, records show. In an Oct. 4, 1999, letter to the medical board, Walter M. O'Brien, president of the hospital's medical staff, said he was "familiar with the current events involving Dr. Jones' drug use . . . and he fully supports his return to practice," according to Virginia board records.

Jones declined several requests for an interview.

"My natural instinct is to use your forum to set the record straight," Jones wrote in an e-mail. "As you know, the events that led to my last meeting with the Virginia Board of Medicine occurred . . . six years ago. Since then, my family and I have moved past the painful fallout of those times and do not wish to revisit them in a public forum."

Jones declined to say whether he is practicing medicine, and the Virginia medical board does not keep track of who is actively practicing, said Karen W. Perrine, the board's deputy executive director of discipline.

In the case of Arlington ophthalmologist Kenneth D. Hansen, 58, Virginia medical board records say that in January 1997, he showed up at Arlington Hospital, now Virginia Hospital Center, late for surgery, "unshaven, his hair was uncombed . . . his eyes were glassy, his speech was slurred and his face and hands appeared swollen."

His hands trembled while performing cataract surgery, and "Patient A," according to the board records, "incurred excessive bleeding," prompting the hospital to suspend Hansen's privileges. The hospital reinstated him less than a month later. A year earlier, he had been suspended from performing surgery at the hospital until he completed treatment for a prescription drug problem. Then in March 1997, after the cataract surgery, he was back in rehab, according to board records. His Virginia license was suspended, then reinstated on probation in 1998. He currently has an unrestricted license.

Hansen, who has a private practice in Arlington, declined to discuss his history. "I've done everything I can to the satisfaction of the board," he said in a brief phone conversation. "Sometimes you have to move on."

Incident in Loudoun

Kim Gardiner, a former patient of physician John Pholeric, said state medical boards and hospitals should bar drug-abusing doctors from the medical field.

"That just angers me," she said. "Nothing is really done about it."

Gardiner knew nothing of Pholeric's history when she went to his Loudoun County office in 1995 on the recommendation of her HMO. She needed surgery for hearing loss in her left ear, a procedure that involved wiring a tiny hammer into her ear drum.

"He had performed it before -- not once or twice, but several times," said Gardiner, now 42 and a mother of three in suburban Atlanta. But she emerged from the surgery at Reston Hospital Center with a dislocated jaw.

"My face hurt, and I had an excruciating headache, like a migraine, and it kept getting worse," she recalled in an interview. She said she was unable to chew and had to sip liquids through a straw for three weeks.

Gardiner sued Pholeric and the hospital, but it was the hospital that settled with her for an undisclosed amount, she said.

When Gardiner went to Pholeric, he was already known to the Virginia medical board for stealing and using drugs in the 1980s. He went to a residential treatment program in 1984 and the next year was convicted in federal court in the District for writing 42 false prescriptions for his personal use. The court placed him on probation and banned him from prescribing certain drugs for two years but did not order him to stop practicing.

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