State Medical Board finds no wrongdoing in Dr. O’Neill case
Dr. Karen O’Neill, a physician for 41 years in the employ of Norton Sound Health Corporation who stood accused by NSHC of overprescribing opioid pain killers, has been cleared by the State Medical Board of any wrongdoing connected with the allegation.
In a “non-disciplinary letter of advisement” dated November 29, 2017 the State Medical Board informed Dr. O’Neill that “the investigation is closed without disciplinary action and that no further action will be taken.” The letter states that the division and the Alaska State Medical Board has completed the investigation review of the Norton Sound Health Corporation’s internal investigation and Dr. O’Neill’s prescribing practices of pain patients.
According to the letter, a reviewing panel of the board [Alaska State Medical Board] reviewed this investigation and all documentation provided. The board concluded that Dr. O’Neill did not violate Unprofessional Conduct regulations, but that she did prescribe drugs without a physical examination. The board recommended, but did not require, additional training.
A search on the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing webpage confirms that Dr. O’Neill’s medical license is active and valid until Dec. 31, 2018 and that there are no actions, agreements or accusations found.
Quinten Warren, investigator with the Medicaid Fraud Unit, an investigative organization under the Alaska Dept. of Law, declined to comment on the whether or not there has been an investigation and if so, if the case is still open or closed. Warren said in a phone interview with The Nome Nugget that the most up-to-date information on charges brought could be found at the Medicaid Fraud Unit website. The website lists no charges against Dr. O’Neill.
The allegations started when several patients of Dr. O’Neill were under investigation for abusing their prescriptions for other purposes than treating their pain. Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics investigators informed NSHC that patients were under investigation for selling painkillers they were prescribed. NSHC launched an internal investigation that included an interview with Dr. O’Neill in the presence of another medical staff member and lawyers asking questions pertaining to her prescription methods. The patients were Dr. O’Neill’s patients, but according to WAANT investigator Garrett Frost, O’Neill was not the subject of his investigation. However, Dr. O’Neill was placed on leave without pay by NSHC in October 2016 and was terminated in February 2017.
According to Dr. O’Neill, she still has a valid DEA license to prescribe drugs.
NSHC has not publically recognized that the state Medical Board has closed the Karen O’Neill case without taking any disciplinary action. In a post on NSHC’s Facebook site dated December 23, 2017, a letter from the NSHC board of directors responded to public criticism regarding a NSHC personnel decision. It linked the decision to not hire Ben Head, a Nome grown physician who aspired to follow his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps to work as a medical doctor in Nome, to Dr. Karen O’Neill. The letter states that hateful posts from a small number of local residents were based on “false truths” and “rumors.”
“The truth of the matter is that this entire situation with the hateful posts began when NSHC took action to stop the deadly overprescribing of narcotics to patients by a single physician.” It did not name the physician, but the only medical doctor accused was Dr. O’Neill. The letter continues to say, “In an effort to cooperate with the Alaska Governor’s and Nationwide mandate of stopping opioid abuse, the NSHC Board of Directors fully supported the decision to no longer contract with the provider, thereby ending many years of overprescribing narcotics to a group of patients cared for by NSHC.”
The letter did not mention that the Alaska State Medical Board closed Dr. O’Neill’s case without disciplinary action.