Aug
16

Chief medical officer dismisses case against former Seward doctor

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More than a year after the state asked for disciplinary action against a former Seward physician, Nebraska's chief medical officer has dismissed the case against her.

The state failed to prove Dr. Barbara Froehner's treatment of six patients -- five of whom died -- constituted a pattern of negligent conduct, Dr. Joann Schaefer said in an order last week.

 

She said the state also failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence Froehner failed to keep records of treatment, prescribed controlled substances in violation of regulations or practiced outside the normal standard of care.

"I think she vindicated Dr. Froehner across the board," her attorney, Bill Tannehill, said Wednesday.

In the end, Schaefer's order had just one criticism of Froehner -- that with one patient she had "failed to comport fully" with best practice recommendations to monitor narcotic use and prevent abuse.

It hardly was the scathing allegations Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Susan Ugai made in a 10-page petition asking Schaefer to take disciplinary action against Froehner.

Tannehill said Froehner, now a family physician at Fort Leonard Wood Army base in southern Missouri, was thrilled by the outcome.

"It's obviously good news," he said.

Tannehill said Froehner was distraught when the petition was filed and by the black eye she got when the allegations were made public. But he was confident from the outset things would go well once all the evidence was reviewed.

The state has 30 days from the filing to appeal to the district court. Tannehill doesn't believe that will happen.

Shannon Kingery, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, did not return requests for comment on the case Wednesday afternoon.

The petition filed by the office in July 2011 alleged that Froehner prescribed drugs that led to the deaths of five patients between 2008 and 2010, two considered probable suicides and a third who was morbidly obese.

And it called into question her care of a sixth patient, who later went to prison for providing one of the five patients his prescription fentanyl patches. That patient died of an overdose.

In the end, the allegations came down to pain management for a group of patients with complicated issues that included injuries, chronic pain, depression and morbid obesity.

At a hearing in November, the state's key witness agreed different schools of thought exist regarding pain management and said he had not received any special training in the field.

Yet Dr. Gerald Luckey, a David City family physician hired by the state, described what he saw in his review of the six patients' records as a "pattern of negligent care."

He said Froehner contributed to addiction problems for at least two of the patients and gave another "habit-forming medications in escalating doses for a medical condition that did not justify the medications."

Others disagreed.

Among them was Dr. Van Vahle, who said he'd seen no red flags working with Froehner for 16 years at Memorial Health Care Systems in Seward and that her management of pain met or exceeded the standard of care.

He said she took "very difficult patients because no one else in the clinic would do it," and, in his opinion, provided outstanding and compassionate care.

In the end, Schaefer sided with Froehner, finding that Luckey's conclusions weren't adequately supported by the evidence.

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