The D.C. Board of Medicine has closed its investigation of a physician who was suspended, reinstated and then demoted by Howard University Hospital after questions were raised about her treatment of women with complicated pregnancies.
Between 1994 and 1996, some mothers and babies in the care of Barbara Wesley, then director of the teaching hospital's maternal-fetal medicine division, died during or soon after delivery. Some colleagues called Wesley a hazard to patients and urged the hospital to order her to be retrained.
The medical board's decision removes any threat that her medical practice would be limited as a result of the episode.
"I think it exonerates her," said Wesley's attorney, Shelley D. Hayes. "We have said all along that the record did not demonstrate any breaches of the standard of care by Dr. Wesley that resulted in any increased morbidity or mortality."
The board will not comment about the June action because it never filed charges, but yesterday two knowledgable sources confirmed that the matter is closed. The decision was reached after the board received a report from D.C. Medical Society peer reviewers hired to examine records of seven Wesley patients.
Starting in 1995, Howard's then-OB-GYN chairman, Newton G. Osborne, began complaining in internal documents that Wesley made bad diagnoses, inadequately monitored high-risk patients, left hospitalized patients unattended and failed to plan timely deliveries for patients with life-threatening problems. But the hospital took no action until he asked Howard's president and trustees to intervene in October 1996.
Then they moved immediately, and for 15 months Wesley treated no patients. However she continued receiving her $188,000 annual salary and remained Howard's principal investigator in infant mortality research funded by the National Institutes of Health.
She argued in a 1997 lawsuit that the hospital's foreign-born male doctors, including Osborne, discriminated against her because she is an American-born black woman.
In February 1998, Howard settled Wesley's initial claim by reinstating her and paying $40,000 of her legal fees. Soon afterward, Osborne resigned as chairman in protest of her return and other actions of the hospital leadership.
Early this year, Howard removed Wesley as maternal-fetal medicine director, and Wesley said she was forced to resign as a manager of federal research grants. She still serves on the OB-GYN staff.
In March, Wesley filed another lawsuit, complaining that Howard officials retaliated against her for the first one, invaded her privacy and refused to defend her after The Washington Post reported the matter in October 1998.
Howard officials have denied the new allegations.