A $4.65 million settlement after a baby’s brain was damaged during delivery. A $3.5 settlement after a patient’s cancer treatment was delayed. A $1 million settlement when a woman died after an alleged misreading of an imaging test.
Andrew Meyer is one of the state’s leading medical malpractice attorneys. Many of the cases he and his firm, Lubin & Meyer, handle each year result in large payments to patients and their families. So, when Governor Deval Patrick in September nominated Meyer’s wife, Kathleen, to fill a public appointment on the board that oversees doctor discipline, some physicians were concerned.
Three medical specialty groups have sent letters to Patrick’s office calling for him to reconsider. Meyer’s presence on the board presents at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, they say.
But Meyer supporters say her appointment was a bold move on Patrick’s part, part of a broader overhaul of the seven-member panel, and that it sends a signal that the group is committed to protecting patients.
Meyer also is an attorney, though she has not practiced in the private sector since 1994. She replaced Judge Herbert Hodos after Patrick chose not to reappoint him.
Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, in a letter to Patrick dated Dec. 7, expressed “universal dismay among physicians” over Meyer’s selection, and the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society wrote last month that her presence could undermine physicians’ due process.
“We believe strongly that the appointment of the spouse of a prominent Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney is not in keeping with the level of care and concern for how our government is viewed by its citizens,” Dr. Alex Sabo, president of psychiatric group, said in a Jan. 4 letter.
Kate Cook, the governor’s chief legal counsel, responded to Sabo Feb. 4 with a letter explaining the requirements of the public appointee: They must not have been involved in the medical profession during the five years preceding the appointment and must not be related to someone who is licensed by the board. Meyer meets those requirements and her husband’s job does not present a conflict, Cook writes.
“The Governor believes her experience and skills make her well-suited to represent the public,” she said.
Cook noted that Meyer was vetted by the State Ethics Commission and “is aware of the circumstances under which she would need to recuse herself” from board proceedings. The same response letter was sent to the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Members of the state section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also have raised concerns. Meyer’s appointment means that someone with financial ties to a medical liability firm would have access to confidential information about doctors, such as complaints from patients and hospital disciplinary records, Dr. Erin Tracy, chairwoman of that group wrote to the governor on Jan. 30.
“We implore you to revoke this appointment” and select a candidate who can work “without any concerns for the potential for personal gain,” Tracy said.
Meyer said in an interview Friday that it is “literally and factually impossible” for her to share details of cases with her husband’s firm.
Patient names are redacted from all records that the board reviews. And, she said, she is careful about recusing herself from board proceedings involving a physician ever tied to a case in which the firm was involved.
Before each meeting, she runs the names of physicians scheduled to appear before the board through a court database. For example, she said, one physician was involved with a court case in which the firm participated that had ended 25 years ago, and she recused herself.
Dr. Gerald Healy, vice chairman of the medical board and emeritus surgeon-in-chief at Boston Children’s Hospital, said he has been impressed by Meyer’s conduct and is troubled by the medical groups’ assumption that her relationship to a patients’ attorney should disqualify her.
“That’s like saying patients don’t have a right to be represented,” he said. “It’s just wrong.”
Other members have financial relationships with hospitals whose doctors may come before the board and must recuse themselves from those cases, said Dr. Candace Sloane, the board chairwoman. Meyer’s position is no different, she said.
“The board is there to protect the public, not to serve special interests,” she said.Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.