Testimony at Hearing Seals Fate of Arlington Psychiatrist

By Sandra G. Boodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

The hearing was entering its 10th hour Thursday night when Arlington County psychiatrist Martin H. Stein learned that his 40-year career as a practicing physician was effectively over.

The Virginia Board of Medicine denied Stein's petition to reinstate the license he surrendered six years ago for his treatment of 10 patients, among them a 4-year-old whose legs he bound with duct tape.

The three-member panel found that Stein had harmed 17 other patients by over-prescribing sometimes dangerous combinations of drugs, diagnosing nonexistent conditions and engaging in unethical behavior with female patients.

Stein, 67, who declared personal bankruptcy five years ago and has been sued more than 15 times since 1995, may reapply or appeal. But both are expensive, time-consuming processes with virtually no chance of success.

"I know he's disappointed, as I was," his Richmond-based attorney, Michael Goodman, said yesterday, adding that his client has not decided how to proceed.

Stein's marathon hearing in Richmond provided a revealing glimpse into the largely secret process involving the reinstatement of doctors disciplined for the most serious offenses. The toughest cases are those such as Stein's that hinge on competence and psychological factors rather than substance abuse, which can be treated and monitored through random drug tests.

State medical boards, which are dominated by doctors, must balance the safety of the public with the rights of colleagues, who typically mount well-financed and aggressive efforts to get their licenses back. Last year, only two of the 12 doctors who petitioned the Virginia board for reinstatement were denied.

"The questions we looked at during these hearings are, has a doctor learned his lesson, is he currently competent and are his problems fixable?" said former board chairman Joseph A. Leming. He called reinstatement hearings "profoundly intense."

Stein, who has been receiving psychiatric disability benefits, told the board he is being treated for bipolar disorder, which he said was largely to blame for his many problems. The panel met in closed session for two hours with Stein's psychiatrist and other doctors to hear details of his treatment.

The medical director of the Virginia Health Practitioners' Intervention Program, whose staff evaluated Stein, disagreed. Internist Patricia Pade, who argued against reinstatement, said his problems involve "characterological issues." Also known as personality disorders, such problems include narcissism and grandiosity.

Julia Bennett, a lawyer representing the commonwealth, emphatically argued against reinstatement, saying that Stein failed to prove he was no longer a danger to public health and that there was no way to monitor him.

"It doesn't matter what kind of safeguards you put in place," she said, noting that some of Stein's former patients called or wrote asking that he be permanently barred, though none attended the hearing.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company