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California Medical Professionals Were Allowed to Work Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol

David Mittleman

In a shocking new report, investigators revealed that hospital workers in California were allowed to continue working even though they tested positive in drug and alcohol screenings. Specifically, more than 140 nurse, doctors, and pharmacists in a program for substance-abusing medical professionals tested positive for alcohol or drugs, but the results were disregarded simply because a state subcontractor was using the wrong standard.

Ironically, the deputy director for enforcement and compliance for the state Department of Consumer Affairs claims that his agency takes the problem seriously and that no known patients were harmed as a result, but won’t comment on the number of hospital workers that saw patients during the 10-month period in question.

Virginia-based Maximus Inc. receives $2.5 million to run California’s “diversion programs” meant to help drug or alcohol-addicted doctors, nurse, veterinarians, dentists, as well as many other types of medical professionals. Most often, participants are referred to the program after being caught or admit that they have a problem. The standards problem arose when Maximus contracted the drug testing lab work to Pennsylvania-based First Lab, which then subcontracted to Kansas-based Clinical Reference Lab. Unfortunately, that lab assessed the results of the drug and alcohol tests based on incorrect standards. According to safety officials, medical professionals’ strict abstinence from drugs and alcohol is vital to patient safety, particularly because the participants in the “diversion programs” are beyond social drinkers.

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