Placed on administrative leave for taking medicine for dog
Empathy for an ailing animal may have undone the 40-year long, unblemished medical career of a favorite family physician.
Dr. Leland "Bud" Beamer, who first came to Jefferson County in 1969 to work as physician and director at Indian Health Services in Warm Springs, and later served more than three decades as the county's only surgeon, has been on unpaid administrative leave since Aug. 6 from his position as emergency room physician at Mountain View Hospital.
Beamer, who turns 70 this week, was at first reluctant to tell his story, but has decided that after two months have passed, it's time.
The incident that resulted in forced leave was an error in judgment, he admitted, nevertheless, he hopes that the circumstances surrounding the incident and his years of dedicated service will be considered as mitigating factors when the hospital board and Oregon Board of Medical Examiners determine whether or not he will be able to continue to practice medicine.
Just before starting a 24-hour shift at the hospital, Beamer's terminally ill dog Dixie, a 14-year-old yellow lab, had fallen down the stairs at his home.
When he finished his shift at 8 a.m., Beamer's thoughts were on providing comfort for his dog, the last of a pair of dogs given to him after his oldest son Todd and four of his dogs drowned in a tragic accident in 1997.
Beamer, who had worked for 33 years as a physician and surgeon at Madras Medical Group, asked a nurse to unlock the drawer where the anesthetic ketamine was kept. The nurse unlocked the drawer, and was then called away.
"Without being discreet or secretive, I drew up the medicine, left all of the evidence there, wrote the name of the medicine on the syringe, and left," said Beamer, who had been accustomed to having access to medicine during the years he practiced at Madras Medical Group.
The next day, a Sunday, Beamer was at church when hospital CEO Jeanie Gentry called him to tell him that he needed to meet with administration on Monday, to discuss the fact that he had taken a controlled drug.
"Our CEO stated that she wanted to hear my side of the story before she made her decision," he said. "She had already conferred with the head CEO of St. Charles Health System regarding her decision."
"After a long, 24-hour shift, tons of ranch work ahead, and totally preoccupied with how to deal with our dog, the humane concerns clouded my judgment," said Beamer, who has a 180-acre ranch and farm that he runs with his wife Beth Ann, a registered nurse, who coordinates the Community Health Improvement Partnership, which is sponsored by the hospital.
Although he never used the 2 cubic centimeters of the drug -- and returned it to the hospital at the time of the meeting with Gentry, Beamer understood that he should not have taken the medicine and expected some sort of action. He did not expect that he would immediately be asked to resign or be placed on administrative leave for taking the ketamine -- a Class III controlled substance.
"I realize that I made a mistake and have to be accountable for my actions," Beamer began, "but to be spoken to and treated like a criminal and suffer such adverse consequences was devastating to me."
"I made a mistake, but our CEO could have spoken on my behalf when she did the mandatory reporting," he said. "To put my license, prescribing ability, and essentially my career on the line for an act of this nature certainly could have used some forgiveness and humane understanding."
The Beamers' dog, Dixie, had a softball-sized tumor on the right side of her head, which had spread to her right eye and throat and eventually caused her death on Sept. 22, according to Anne Marie Boelter, of Sunriver, Beamer's oldest daughter.
"His love for his dogs is an important part of the story," said Boelter, noting that "dogs reign" at her dad's house. "If people understood what his dogs meant to him -- he didn't even think about consequences."
Hospital CEO Jeanie Gentry would not confirm or deny Beamer's account. "It's so confidential and private," she said. "I'm not going to comment at all because it's so sensitive -- out of respect for him."
Beamer's family and friends have rallied to his side.
"He's such a caring, compassionate man, with such character," said daughter Jennie Beamer, of Bend. "It's hard to see it work out like this."
Trudi Haugen, of Madras, who worked as office manager at Madras Medical Group for nearly 20 years, recalled Beamer's decades of caring for people in the community.
"In private practice, something like that would be totally what you would do," she said, referring to Beamer's mistake. "When you own your own practice, you can do things like that."
Beamer retired from his private practice in 2007, after being on call 24 hours a day for 33 years, and went to work in the hospital ER.
"Everybody loved Dr. Beamer," said Haugen. "He had his own way of practicing; you may have to wait, but when it was your turn, you were going to get his time. He cared for the entire you."
Haugen said that after the death of his son, Beamer had particularly reached out to others in the community who had lost children.
"He reaches out in a big way," she said, noting that he would go visit families. "He knows what they've gone through and what they're going to go through. He's just amazing with all of that."
Robyn Rosenfield, of Madras, who was Beamer's nurse for eight years at the clinic, described Beamer as honest and caring to patients and staff.
"He was a very compassionate, very knowledgeable, sincere doctor," she said. "He'd even call patients or go to patients' houses to see them on his own time."
Rosenfield, who now works in a pharmacy in Redmond, was taken aback when she learned of Beamer's situation. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "Working in a pharmacy and knowing the drug he took, it's not something you should lose your license for. Its original purpose was for animals."
Retired physician Carlos Kemper, who worked alongside Beamer at Madras Medical Group until Kemper's retirement in 2000, praised Beamer's service to the community.
"Bud Beamer has been a tremendous medical part of this community for a long time," he said.
"He has spent hours in the emergency room, hours in surgery, coming in late at night, or early in the morning," said Kemper, noting that if other doctors had problems in the ER, "We would always call Bud and he would come in and help us out."
The incident occurred at an interesting time for the hospital district, which may soon be absorbed by St. Charles Health System.
"I have been outspoken in my resistance to the total SCHS takeover of our hospital in Madras," said Beamer, who is in a precarious position speaking against the acquisition, since his wife is also employed by the hospital.
"Most of us at Mountain View have worked hard to maintain our autonomy," he continued. "Our taxpayers have paid for this facility and have had no say in the matter. Their representatives, our elected hospital board, who put in considerable hours dealing with hospital matters, have in the past, as well as now, been influenced significantly by the recommendations of our CEO and SCHS. The latter have stated how surprised they are that the takeover has been so unchallenged and easy."
Once the MVH board signs the asset transfer agreement with St. Charles, now scheduled for the board's Oct. 23 meeting, the community will no longer own its hospital.
"We don't have any leverage at all once they take all our assets," he said. "That's particularly troubling with the way they dealt with me and with the problems they're having in Bend right now. I'm not confident they're looking out for our interests."
Ideally, Beamer would like to see a lease arrangement for two or three years, "and then see how it goes."
Beamer, who reported himself to the Board of Medical Examiners, has no idea when his fate will be decided by either board. The incident is also under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency and Oregon State Police, who were sent to his home to look into a theft charge.
"I was told that regardless of the rulings, I would not be able to return to work," he said. "Those who steal narcotics or other addictive drugs, are sent to rehab, get a provisional license and return to work -- which I support wholeheartedly. How egregious was my offense?"
While he waits for a ruling, Beamer is busy managing the property he and Beth Ann purchased as an escape after Todd's death.
The property, which overlooks Pelton Dam, includes an irrigated 40-acre parcel that he farms, and other acreage where he runs 50 head of cattle. With the loss of his income, he's had to put the farm and a lodge that he co-owns on the Deschutes River up for sale.
Beamer hopes for a favorable ruling. "I'd like to get my medical license and ability to prescribe medicine back, so I can practice medicine," he said. "Being dismissed for an ethical reason is painful to me. There was no criminal intent."