published Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Spokesman says Scott DesJarlais won't resign despite potential blows to medical license


by Chris Carroll
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Photo by Dan Henry.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said Friday that the physician-turned-politician has no plans to step down despite new revelations that could jeopardize his medical license.

"No, he does not," spokesman Robert Jameson told The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, when asked if DesJarlais planned to resign his 4th District seat.

On Thursday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published a story confirming that the recently re-elected, anti-abortion Republican supported his ex-wife's two abortions in the 1990s before they were married. The information came from the congressman's own sworn testimony in his 2001 divorce trial.

While that led Democrats to call him a political hypocrite, the bigger issue for state regulators could be the other bombshell from the divorce. DesJarlais testified that he had sexual relationships with two patients, three co-workers and a drug representative while chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn.

For the second day, Jameson did not return multiple Times Free Press requests for comment.

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Nina Yeiser, a citizen member and 12-year-veteran of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, said she wouldn't be surprised if the board discussed an ethics complaint already filed against the congressman at an upcoming meeting.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint against DesJarlais in October amid initial reports that he impregnated one of his patients and pressured her to get an abortion.

Yeiser said she considered news of DesJarlais' testimony "serious" and worthy of review as soon as possible. After hearing about the congressman's six relationships with patients and personnel over a two-year period, she noted that "he was busy."

She described sexual contact -- even consensual -- between physicians and patients as "unethical," and it's prohibited under ethical guidelines established by the American Medical Association. Since 2005, the state board has disciplined at least five Tennessee physicians for consensual sexual relationships with patients, records show.

But Shelley Walker, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, which provides administrative support for the board, said complaints about physicians who pose an "immediate" risk to patients often are prioritized.

There is no statute of limitations for medical ethics complaints and investigations in Tennessee. Still, Walker said parsing events from a decade ago could be problematic in a potential investigation.

"There are issues related to something that happened some time ago," she said. "Witnesses have to be tracked down; documents may or may not be located."

When asked if the board could act independently based on DesJarlais' own testimony, Walker replied that "anybody" -- members of the Board of Medical Examiners and out-of-state residents included -- can file a complaint to spur an investigation.

DesJarlais' physician license does not expire until 2014. His practice in Jasper, known as Medical Arts Plaza P.C., is registered with the Tennessee secretary of state through April 1, 2013.

Calls to the office Friday yielded a voicemail that mentioned DesJarlais' name and a nurse practitioner. The recording said the office "is currently closed."

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