One Week to the Election and Desperation Sets In
We are less than a week before the election. To date, I’ve run a solid and positive race. But I am learning about politics and got a hard lesson today. My opponent in the Democratic Primary has decided to start a smear campaign. Well good, it is time for it to come out before my serious competition on the Republican side tries to use it. To date, I give the Republicans credit for running a positive campaign, and it turns out my Democratic Opponent was the first to break under the pressure of a losing campaign. Shame on you Mr. Corbett. I was beating you fair and square and, with the help of the people of the 97th, I hope I will crush you on election day Aug 2nd.
There is a saying in aviation. ‘Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from learning from bad decisions’. I’ve had my share of experience.
Mudslinging is based on the premise that ‘The other guy is worse than I am, so vote for me’. Our campaign, Robert Townsend for District 97, is based on a different premise- “I will better represent you than the other guy, so vote for me’. We do not want to be viewed as the ‘lessor of two evils’, we want to be ‘the best choice’ for the District. As a lawyer, my opponent clearly knows what happened and a charge sheet don’t always mesh, but when you have to revert to dirty tricks to try and salvage an election desperation kicks in and integrity and facts become optional. This is NOT how I would conduct myself as your representative.
Pioneers are the Ones with the Arrows in Their Backs
When I was in my early 30’s, as many of my opponents are now, I was pretty squeaky clean. My accomplishments included completing my education for my chosen profession. Along the way I worked in public safety as a paramedic, served in the military, taught hundreds of people how to do CPR, and helped out after some natural disasters (Hurricane Andrew and Hugo were two).
Then I started my career as an Internal Medicine doctor. I quietly took care of people in Dillon, SC for years, worked for others and then built my own practice. My community respected me, I had a good practice, and never had any issues with malpractice or board action. The quiet life of a country doctor- I even made house calls. I married, had children, and went through a messy divorce. My ex finally delivered a knockout blow and I lost everything I built in 2005. I returned home to Michigan with my new wife and started over.
The Dangers of Pain Management
Michigan was quite a change, but we adapted. I continued in Internal Medicine, but began to drift to pain management and addiction in about 2006. It fascinated me, and I felt I was making a difference in people’s lives. It was a neglected need in N. Michigan, and I rose to meet that need.
I didn’t, at first, realize the politics and dangers of pain management in N. Michigan. Pain medication use was, shall we say, much more than I was used to down South, and I kept my dosing low and conservative. Every town has the ‘pain pill doctor’, and ours was no exception. They raided him and shut him down, but out of a sense of duty as a physician, I took many of his patients. While my dosing was a fraction of what he gave, when their investigation of him fell apart, they went after me.
Long story short, in 2007 they charged me with a crime after threatening a patient unless she told a story about me. To her credit she refused to lie until they repeatedly threatened to take her children . I refused to take a plea, because I was still under the naive impression that innocent people don’t take pleas, and went to trial. I won my case with the jury- based on the evidence and the tape of the interrogation of the witness, the medical board felt no action was needed, but the charge could not be removed. To this day, rival clinics and my opponents in the medical marijuana community try to bring that old charge up to say I am a bad person.
I look at the experience as a valuable life lesson. Much was learned about the legal system, criminal defense, prosecutions and the politics of pain management. We reviewed what happened, how it happened, and learned from it. It was a terrible, yet valuable life experience. I have respect for law enforcement, but after that experience and the way they treated that mother to create the charge, I have a healthy suspicion of their methods.
What became Denali Healthcare was established in late 2009. The concept was to provide medical services to working people that did not have health insurance yet did not qualify for medicaid. Until that time, these patients had to seek VERY expensive and erratic care in urgent cares and emergency rooms- generally with little, if any, continuity of care. They didn’t have their own ‘doctor’ that knew them.
We examined medical practices based on years of experience. Most medical care was delivered under an insurance based system. Doctors charging $100 for an office visit were paid $40-60 (three months later) for that visit. Billing had to be on the right paperwork, filling it out was complicated and, once sent to the insurance company, picked apart and denied repeatedly. Specialists had to be hired just to fill out the forms.
What if we didn’t hire the specialists, or fill the paperwork out? What if we just charged people $50 at the time of service and called it a day? Most of our patients had co-pays and deductibles and ended up paying out of pocket anyhow, even with insurance. Insurance could cover catastrophic expenses or things like CT scans, but the office visit would be cash. We decided to give it a shot and see how it worked out.
First we worked with another field of interest- Medical Marijuana Certifications. We were very successful and actually had a hand in setting the state wide standards for certifications as a respected clinic. We still are setting standards and very successful. The next stage was to open offices and begin pain and addiction management, another interest and area of expertise. Eventually we wanted to convert those offices to primary care.
Pushback and Retaliation
After doing pain management and addiction for several years, we established so good protocols and procedures. Our documentation was computerized and portable from office to office (no longer fixed to a single chartroom). Our ‘Rational Pain Management’ model was very successful and based on return to function on as little medication as possible. This is all on the Denali Website for those interested in how we did our pain management and suboxone addiction treatment. We were getting ready to expand to alcoholism and other forms of addiction after our success with narcotic abuse.
Unfortunately, when you do something a little different it draws attention. The fact that we didn’t accept insurance raised eyebrows, as did the fact we appropriately and legally allowed the use of medical marijuana as an adjunctive therapy- one that allowed us to reduce our patient’s medication use by 60-75% compared to what they were previously taking from other local doctors. The fact I was a well published and vocal advocate of the MMMA didn’t help either.
The Morning Sun Article
The decision was made to take me and Denali Healthcare down. Carefully prepared undercover investigators (two of them) came to my office in Marquette, complete with medical records, matching state MAPS reports (which provided independent confirmation of their medication use), and state issued drivers licenses. One was rejected as a patient on suspicion of diversion. The other was a soccer mom type with excellent records and a very reasonable story. She was treated with a motrin like medication and 45 norco for breakthrough pain. They summarily suspended my license without hearing or defense. This was the first board action taken against me in 25 years of practice, and they threw a laundry list of complaints against me.
The reporter from the Morning Sun called me for comment several months after the state took action. It was only a few days before the hearing, and on advice of my attorney, I couldn’t even respond to the allegations other than to deny them. No details, nothing about the set up, records, etc. The article was brutal and only told one side of the case. My patients, family and staff offered nothing but encouragement and support. The prevailing opinion was that I was specifically targeted for my support of medical marijuana and that the allegations were baseless.
There never were criminal charges, my attorney had never seen a case treated like this in his 15 years of practice specializing in health professions board actions. We were not allowed to use the entrapment defense, challenge the witnesses, or even present the 270 letters of support from my patients. We were presented with a choice of fighting it out- something that would keep me out of practice and delay the resolution of the matter until my license needed to be renewed (allowing them to deny it citing ‘ongoing legal action’).
Or we could settle and I could get back to my patients. After much soul searching, personal opposition and duress, I made the hard decision to get back to my patients and reach an agreement, if you can call it that, with the board. I paid a fine, suffered their public humiliation, and am back in practice. I made the choice for my patients and took the humiliation. I made some very minor changes to my practice and went back to what I’ve devoted my life to- caring for patients. I also learned a lot about the process and the motivations behind it.
The Fall Out
After the case was resolved, several prosecutors attempted to capitalize on it to impeach my bonafide dr/pt relationship with my patient in Section 8 hearings in medical marijuana cases. They were unsuccessful. My competitors attempted to promote their businesses by pointing it out (you may have seen postings by one ‘Jim Jones’- this is a false name used by the owner of a rival clinic). Yet the patients still come, and my schedule is full. 70 patients in very good recovery were put on the street by the state. Hundreds in pain management now suffer despite their previous excellent care on low dose medications. All in the name of attacking medical marijuana. I am the major certifying physician in N. Michigan, taking me out would have shut a significant portion of the state out of the MMMA. They failed. We are still here.
So There You Have It
I’m not perfect. I’ve suffered some setbacks and learned from them. I’ve seen, first hand, some of the challenges facing pain management and addiction patients. I’ve been in court as an expert witness, litigant, and yes, even a defendant. These are life experiences I’ve had, and I am a better person because of them in a way. I understand what it is to be denied a home loan, like many of the people of the 97th have experienced, because I’ve been denied home loans. I’ve seen success and failure, and rebuilt to success again. I’ve had to make hard decisions, not just as a doctor, but in my life. It is often said good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from making bad decisions.
I have 25 years of life experience after completing my education and joining the workforce. Here you have my skeletons for all their glory. If you want someone unbloodied by life representing you in Lansing, so be it. But if you want someone that has the experience and tempering of the fire of life, I will do my best for you. But I will NEVER attack an opponent personally, professionally, or try and win a contest by showing the other guy is worse than I am. I’ll leave that to lesser men.
Dr. Robert Townsend