> To the Editor,
I first met Dr. Beamer in the fall of 1975, when I was doing a three-week preceptorship with the family doctors in Madras. Dr. Beamer made a point of telling me -- and demonstrating to me -- how important he considered it was to treat people in such a way that they'd feel at least a little bit better about themselves after every appointment. I carried that very positive message with me throughout the years I worked in medicine. While at MMG, Dr. Beamer took on one of our family members as a patient, treating her in his very competent and caring way.
I practiced emergency medicine in Walla Walla for more than a dozen years. While there, I served on the hospital peer review committee that evaluated incidents involving physicians, like bad patient outcomes, conflicts with support staff, problem alcohol or drug use, and so on. During the first several years I lived in Central Oregon, I practiced in Redmond in the ER at Central Oregon District Hospital (now St. Charles Redmond). Jim Diegel -- now St. Charles Health System (SCHS) CEO -- was the administrator, and I found him to be competent and generally even-handed. He vigorously pursued partnerships between regional hospitals and clinics, with the result that most of them eventually became part of the system he now heads.
Later, I worked at the Warm Springs Clinic, and came to respect the support staff and doctors there, one of whom was Dr. Manning.
As most of us understand the events, following a night on duty in the Mountain View Hospital (MVH) ER in early August, Dr. Beamer took a small amount of the anesthetic ketamine from the ER supply to relieve his ill and injured dog. The incident was reported, and Dr. Beamer returned the drug and acknowledged his error in taking it.
MVH CEO Jeanie Gentry, in consultation with SCHS CEO Jim Diegel, told Dr. Beamer that she was placing him on immediate administrative leave. She further said that he would not be re-hired by MVH no matter what the state Board of Medical Examiners found in their investigation of the incident. Dr. Beamer was on record in opposition to immediate transfer of MVH assets to SCHS, preferring a trial lease arrangement instead.
Many of us who live in Madras and Jefferson County have a good understanding of Dr. Beamer's act and his motivation for it. What we find difficult to understand are the response and motivation of SCHS administrators Diegel and Gentry to the incident. As errors go -- based on my peer review committee experience -- Dr. Beamer's error was minor. No patient was harmed. No controlled drug was diverted for human use. No ongoing pattern of controlled drug misuse was suggested. So why did SCHS administrators feel it was proper and necessary to suspend Dr. Beamer from work? Even more perplexing, why a permanent suspension? As a related question, would the administrators have taken the same approach with a physician who'd made the same error but who was on board with the plan to transfer MVH assets to SCHS?
For example, if Dr. Manning had made this error, would the administrators have responded by suspending him immediately and permanently from work? To this point, have the administrators ever imposed such a severe penalty in response to such a minor error?
By now, SCHS administrators must have a clear sense of the psychological and financial toll their actions are having on Dr. Beamer. Unless their intent is to inflict the greatest possible injury on Dr. Beamer, why would they pursue such a damaging course when they have it well within their power to prevent it? We all make errors, and we often suffer the consequences. We also have a sense of fairness and proportionality, judging that the consequence should at least roughly fit the error. Many, likely most, in this community don't see that sense of fairness and proportionality in the response of administrators Diegel and Gentry to Dr. Beamer's error. Mr. Diegel and Ms. Gentry should realize that in an important sense, as they treat Dr. Beamer, so they treat this community.
If the St. Charles Health System is to become a significant part of our community, we will look to them for a relationship based on transparency, mutual respect and fair treatment. Their treatment of Dr. Beamer from this day forward will be a critical gauge of how well they intend to hold up their end of the bargain.
Frank Hoffman, M.D.