`Appalled' board pulls license of Dr. Chen

By Mike Gruss and Niki Kelly
The Journal Gazette

Chief complaint was bad handwriting

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Medical Licensing Board revoked the license of Fort Wayne physician Dr. Tai-Min Chen on Friday, saying he poses a harm to the public.

He cannot reapply for his medical license for seven years.

With unanimous votes on 11 of 12 charges, the board found Chen improperly treated eight premature infants, including two who died, between 1990 and 1997.

While the board had harsh words for Chen in Friday's administrative hearing, it was equally critical of his employer - Lutheran and St. Joseph hospitals.

The board repeatedly said the hospitals' review systems failed to adequately monitor Chen.

"I have grave concerns for the babies at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana," said Barbara Malone, the board's chairperson.

Tom Miller, chief executive officer of Lutheran and St. Joseph hospitals, said many of the problems occurred before Quorum Health Group purchased the hospitals. Quorum bought Lutheran in 1995 and St. Joseph in 1998. Quorum was recently acquired by Dallas-based Triad Hospitals.

Court records, however, show Chen's substandard patient care continued until May 1997.

"We're just highly disappointed," Miller said. "Dr. Chen is a very good doctor."

While the board spent more than 30 minutes reading and voting on individual charges, Chen rubbed his eyes and stroked his forehead. Then, when the board approved Malone's motion for revocation, Chen's mother screamed from the back of the empty auditorium: "What about his 4,000 successful cases?"

Board members said that over years of review, they were distressed by a trend of "appalling" practices.

In one instance, a report said Chen delayed giving appropriate nutrition to a child, failed to follow up on known critical heart defects and provided inappropriate ventilator treatment.

Chen also denied having his privileges restricted or suspended on several licensure renewal forms, when in fact St. Joseph disciplined him eight times between 1991 and 1997.

"I do not see revocation as a punishment, but as a way to protect the public," said Dr. Stacy Lankford, a board member.

The board also took exception to Chen's lack of documentation, illegible handwriting and limited command of the English language, often asking him to speak up or repeat himself during testimony. Members said these weaknesses, especially documentation, severely hindered Chen's ability to provide adequate child care.

"His documentation sucks. If you read it, you wouldn't learn jack from it," Chen's attorney, Karen Springer, admitted to the board.

During Friday's closing arguments, Springer asked for a one-year suspension of Chen's license, which has been suspended on an emergency basis since April 2000. But by a 3-2 vote, the board called for revocation instead.

Dissenters Richard Halstead and William Besson believed Chen was "salvageable" but wanted to place severe restrictions on him.

"If we don't revoke his license, who's going to watch him? The hospital?" Dr. Ralph Stewart said. "What the hell has the hospital changed in the last six to seven years?"

Miller said the state hospital licensure board has found no deficiencies in the hospitals' peer review process, and that Chen was watched closely near the end of his tenure.

Miller also noted that the medical licensing board refused to let him testify about the case and "I don't know how to defend myself if they won't let me."

He continued to hail Chen as a gifted doctor, noting that the hospitals have received hundreds of letters in support of Chen, who has cared for thousands of children in the Fort Wayne area.

"No one could understand how this could happen to such a dedicated doctor," Miller said.



Judiciary Opinions

 Dr. Tai-Min Chen, MD update = all restrictions have been lifted and he practices in Indiana with no malpractice claims or further board sanctions