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The San Luis Obispo Tribune (California)

October 29, 2007 Monday

Psychiatrist can practice on probation;
The Morro Bay man is accused of paying too much attention to one patient while neglecting another

BYLINE: Sarah Arnquist, sarnquist@thetribunenews.com

LENGTH: 664 words

A Morro Bay psychiatrist accused of becoming infatuated with a female patient and failing to intervene before a 17- year-old patient committed suicide can continue practicing while on five years’ probation.
The state Medical Board revoked Douglas P.Murphy’s license but agreed to suspend the revocation if he completes the terms of his probation, which include additional training in medical record keeping, ethics, professional boundaries and clinical practices.
Murphy denied any wrongdoing except failing to maintain adequate medical records in the 17-year-old patient’s case when he settled the case earlier this month with the state Attorney General’s Office.
Murphy has practiced locally since 2000. State Medical Board records showed no previous disciplinary actions.
Murphy’s attorney, Mark Connelly, stressed that his client admitted only to a record-keeping lapse and said none of the other allegations were proven in a public hearing.
Murphy’s answering service indicates he is taking new patients at his office at 2598 Main St. in Morro Bay.
State prosecutor Isa Rodriguez said the Medical Board gave the strictest ruling it deemed fit for this case. State law calls for revocation of licenses when rehabilitation is not an option. But in this case, the Medical Board determined rehabilitation was appropriate, he said.
“When you’re on probation, there’s always a hammer hanging over your head,” he said.
Murphy’s probation requires him to complete the UC San Diego Physician Assessment and Clinical Education Program, which includes two psychiatric evaluations and advanced education, Rodriguez said. Murphy has to pay for all the probation costs, which he said, will likely reach $30,000.
Marilynn Rice, a psychologist for 30 years who formerly taught at Cal Poly, said she believes the Medical Board was too lenient, though she acknowledges it is difficult to prove these cases without outside witnesses.
“There is a lot to be desired in terms of protecting the public,” she said.
Rice treats the female patient in her 50s who filed the patient boundary complaint against Murphy. Rice believes Murphy’s treatment and actions caused extreme distress for the woman, who suffers from multiple personality disorder. The woman does not want to be identified but agreed to let Rice discuss the case.
Connelly said boundary issues with multiple personality disorder patients are difficult. One “personality”may tell the doctor one thing, while another says the opposite.
Given the dearth of psychiatric resources in this county, Murphy tried his best to help the woman, Connelly said.
Atascadero residents Rodney and Lisa Black were dissatisfied with the Medical Board’s ruling. They filed a complaint and a wrongful death suit against Murphy for failing to properly intervene after learning that their son, Everett Taylor Black, had suicidal thoughts. Five days later, on Sept. 25, 2003, he killed himself by overdosing on Benadryl.
“We wished they would have revoked his license completely,” Lisa Black said. “It’s good to see he’s at least going to have to have continued education, because we feel he really needs it.”
The Blacks dropped their lawsuit because they didn’t want their two surviving children to go through depositions, Rodney Black said.
Connelly called the case terribly sad for everyone but said his client adequately treated the boy. Unfortunately, people remember things differently after a traumatic event, he said.
Rudy Bermudez — a former member of the state Medical Board and Assembly, where he supported bills to strengthen physician disciplinary rules–said some doctors may be able to rehabilitate themselves, but “that doesn’t mean they should be practicing while they are undergoing rehabilitation.”
This is a reminder for all patients to check their doctors’ backgrounds for disciplinary actions, he said.
“Physicians have always been held in such great esteem, so individuals seldom ever question them,” he said. “Their word is considered dogma, and it shouldn’t be.”