MOSES LAKE — Dr. David T. Earl has been placed on probation for five years, but the Moses Lake doctor can continue to practice after the state Medical Commission found substandard care of five patients, three of whom died.
The state Department of Health announced the probation in a news release Friday.
The commission ruled April 23 that issues with his treatment of these patients — all between 1998 and 2007 — did not lead to patient deaths after a five-day hearing in March. It also dismissed allegations related to three other patients, two of whom died while under his care.
An employee at Earl’s office said on Tuesday that Earl is declining to comment.
Earl has operated a clinic in Moses Lake since 1991, and his practice includes treating patients with chronic pain and patients with severe and multiple medical problems, the Commission wrote in its final order.
The state Department of Health filed civil charges against the longtime Moses Lake physician in January 2011, charging unprofessional conduct.
Specifically, the state alleged that Earl’s substandard care resulted in one patient’s death, placed five other patients at significant risk of harm or death, and caused unreasonable risk of harm for two other patients.
The Commission agreed to unprofessional conduct for five patients, but did not concur that one patient died as a result of Earl’s care.
The patients receiving substandard care, according to the Commission, included:
A 49-year-old man who Earl discharged from the hospital in March of 2000 with gastro-esophageal medication, and without specific instructions to return to the hospital if his chest pain returned. A test at Earl’s office the next day revealed myocardial infarction, and the patient’s delay in care was substandard.
A 62-year-old man who had his hip replaced by another doctor and received additional pain medication from Earl died of an accidental overdose in March of 2007. When the patient called to say the medication wasn’t working, Earl verbally doubled his medications to twice a day. The doubling of medication without a thorough assessment of what other opiates he had been prescribed by other doctors was substandard.
A 32-year-old man who had been seeing Earl committed suicide in October 2007. Another doctor diagnosed him with an opiate dependency in April 2007, and put him on a withdrawal program six months before his death. The Commission wrote that Earl’s charts were unreliable, and that “The ongoing prescribing of narcotics, especially given the patient’s alcoholism, placed the patient at risk of addiction.”
A woman with chronic pain and a history of psychiatric problems, including suicide attempts and involuntary hospitalizations, was under Earl’s care from 2000 to 2004. Earl continued to prescribe narcotics to her, even though she was “clearly addicted to and abusing the narcotics,” the Commission wrote. Hospitals attempted to wean her from opiates only to have her resume use through Earl’s prescriptions when she was discharged.
A 32-year-old woman with spina bifida and paraplegia who Earl cared for in the hospital while her regular physician was away died in August 2006. Due to the number of medical issues, her rapid deterioration was not due to Earl’s care, however, the Commission wrote, a “lack of history-taking, lack of documentation and lack of a thorough evaluation of the patient’s health status,” was below standard.
The Commission is requiring Earl to undergo an evaluation and enroll in an in-depth education program for doctors at the Center for Personalized Education for Physicians in Denver.
He was also fined $5,000 and must find someone to monitor his patient care and review his charts, and make quarterly reports to the Commission.
This is the second time Earl has faced disciplinary action following patient deaths. He received a reprimand from the Commission in January 2009 after the state investigated the deaths of six of his patients, and an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency agent tried to get a narcotics prescription refilled by Earl.
In that action, the Commission found that Earl’s care of those patients did not fall below standard, or contribute to their deaths. The Commission also reviewed the DEA’s undercover operation and again determined his care was not substandard.
Civil charges of unprofessional conduct were dismissed, but Earl was reprimanded for filling out prescriptions for two patients while a temporary order suspending his license was still in effect. He was also reprimanded for inadequate treatment records of the seven patients.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512