Suspended doctor seeks legal help, hasn't released records
By Heidi C. Williams
August 10, 2004
WALHALLA - A Seneca physician who had his medical license suspended last
month following a series of drunk and disorderly conduct arrests applied
Monday for a public defender to represent him in General Sessions Court.
Although he made the application in person at the county courthouse, Antonio
Felipe Amaya has yet to make available the medical records his patients need
to continue their treatment elsewhere. And now the state board of medical
examiners is saying it is powerless to seize those records or deliver them
Dr. Amaya had his medical license suspended last month, following a series
of arrests, the last of which landed him in jail on charges of criminal
domestic violence and discharging a firearm while under the influence.
Oconee County sheriff's deputies say he was shooting an AK-47 semi-automatic
machine gun, drunk in the backyard of his Hartwell Lake area home.
His application for indigent defense was tendered Monday, according to clerk
of court records. Foreclosure proceedings already are under way on his
Stonehaven Way home.
Since his arrest June 25, Dr. Amaya's practice - the New Hope Neurological
Clinic - has been closed, although some patients report the office was open
for about two days so they could get copies of their medical records.
No formal notice was issued that the office would be open those days,
however, and now the Eagles Nest Drive professional building is locked.
"All we can do is try and encourage the physician and his staff to assist
patients in gaining access to their records," said Jim Knight, a spokesman
for the state board of medical examiners. "We have not had that assistance
or cooperation in this case."
Research by the Anderson Independent-Mail found that Dr. Amaya had been
reported to the state board of medical examiners at least three times in the
past three years.
The state board of medical examiners does not discuss complaints against a
doctor unless formal action is taken, Mr. Knight said, and only the letter
to the clinic owner prompted action by the board. Dr. Amaya received a
public reprimand, was fined and required to take anger management classes.
South Carolina has a history of lax oversight when it concerns its doctors,
according to officials from Public Citizen, a national watchdog group that
runs the Web site www.questionabledoctors.org..
The group annually ranks state medical boards' serious disciplinary actions,
and for the past three years South Carolina has hovered in the bottom 10
states, based on a three-year average. Last year, of the state's 10,140
physicians, only 33 received serious disciplinary actions, the group
Medical boards are supposed to track complaints against doctors so that the
public is protected, said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health
"When medical boards aren't carrying out orders, they are protecting doctors
instead of protecting patients," Dr. Wolfe said.
Although a national database of complaints against physicians exists, it is
not available to the public nor to practicing physicians, he said.
"It's a secret," Dr. Wolfe said, one that is perpetuated by a piece of
federal legislation: the national Health Quality Improvement Act of 1986.
"It robs patients of finding out about their doctors."
State legislation apparently is what's preventing local patients from
gaining access to records at Dr. Amaya's office.
The South Carolina Physicians Patient Records Act does not specifically
address what to do when a physician abandons his office, Mr. Knight of the
medical examiners board said.
Although the board, which is overseen by the state Department of Labor,
Licensing and Regulation, has the authority to suspend and revoke a
physician's license, it has no such authority to deliver medical records to
patients, Mr. Knight said.
Said Mr. Knight of Dr. Amaya's patients: "They're caught in the middle,
Doctor gone, but questions remain
Despite years of complaints, an Upstate doctor lost his medical
last month. Now he is nowhere to be found, and his prescriptions are
linked to several deaths
By Heidi C. Williams
August 7, 2004
SENECA - The professional building at 115-C Eagles Nest Drive is
almost all evidence that a doctor's office once operated there.
Pieces of double-sided tape are all that remain where signs for the
Neurological Clinic once hung. A piece of paper in one window
narcotics or controlled substances are kept in this office."
The space once housed the practice of Antonio Felipe Amaya. A licensed
neuropathologist, he specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of
of the brain and nervous system.
For weeks the office phone has been disconnected, and calls to Dr.
Stonehaven Way home also go unanswered. Court documents show that
foreclosure proceedings have been initiated there.
Since his practice closed its doors, at least one of Dr. Amaya's
has committed suicide. In the months and years while he was
Oconee County's coroner traced several overdose deaths to
Amaya signed. And red flags were raised before his resignation from a
hospital years ago.
All those things are leading some to speculate whether larger
at play, not only in Dr. Amaya's practice, but in the medical
"I hate to say this, but this is an indictment of all our doctors,"
Pickens County coroner and retired surgeon James Mahanes.
He responded to the July 12 suicide of a Central man who had been
care of Dr. Amaya.
What few medical records he had of the Pickens County man gave him
information, other than that he was taking a variety of medications,
including narcotics and antidepressants. Those medications ran out
before the man shot himself with a 22-mm rifle.
"It doesn't make any sense," Dr. Mahanes said. "When somebody is so
prescribing things that are deadly in their own right, and then when
without it you need it so bad that you do something desperate, that's
Pattern of erratic behavior
Dr. Amaya had his medical license suspended by the state last month.
arrested four times between Jan. 1, 2003, and June 25, and the most
arrest came after Oconee County sheriff's deputies say Dr. Amaya was
shooting an AK-47 semi-automatic gun in the back yard of his Hartwell
Lake-area home, heavily intoxicated.
According to the order, that erratic behavior is what led the state
Medical Examiners to suspend Dr. Amaya's license on July 26. The South
Carolina Bureau of Drug Control revoked his ability to prescribe
the next day, and the federal government followed.
Although a hearing still must be held to determine whether his medical
license will be revoked permanently, it is the first time Dr. Amaya
prevented from treating patients since he secured his state medical
in December 1999.
But records and information suggest the state Board of Medical
the sanctioning body for all medical professionals in South Carolina -
been made aware of other concerns about Dr. Amaya years before they
action against him last month, including:
In 2001, Dr. Amaya was reported to the state after administrators at
Memorial Hospital reported their concerns about his practice of
and a lack of support for his clinical findings.
In 2002, Oconee County's coroner, after noticing a pattern of overdose
deaths where Dr. Amaya was the prescribing physician, reported him to
In 2003, the state placed him on probation for an accusatory letter
to the owner of several Louisiana clinics, accusing her of extortion.
Central resident Mary Steele says in light of those past problems, her
question, and the question shared by many of her friends, is: "What
Mrs. Steele's longtime friend committed suicide on July 12. His name
been withheld at the request of his family.
The week before he died, he had been taking between 240 mg and 270 mg
Roxicodone - a heavily controlled narcotic - a day, Mrs. Steele said.
Bottles of methadone - a drug used to treat heroin addicts - along
morphine sulphate and Valium, also had been prescribed to him.
Five days after the man's last pill was gone, he shot himself in the
with the rifle that had been hanging on the wall of Mrs. Steele's
For almost 11 months, Mrs. Steele's friend said he was being treated
fibromyalgia and heat stroke by Dr. Amaya.
But when the man's prescriptions ran out in early July, Dr. Amaya was
in jail. Mrs. Steele said she wondered why her friend was prescribed
drugs to begin with.
He had a history of depression and of drinking too much, but he had
sober for three years, she said.
When his drugs dried up, he started drinking again.
Mrs. Steele is among the friends and family members who said that
since written to the state Board of Medical Examiners and filed formal
complaints about the role that they believe Dr. Amaya played in the
"As soon as he ran out of medicine, he started drinking again," Mrs.
explained. "He just lost hope, I think."
Shortly after her friend's death, Mrs. Steele said she drove to Dr.
"I sat in the driveway for about 10 minutes," she recalled. The grass
appeared to be overgrown, and no lights were on inside.
"I just said, 'I want the law to take care of this SOB.' So I left."
Lots of drugs, little paperwork
Attempts to contact Dr. Amaya through his home, office and past legal
counsel were unsuccessful last week. The Oconee County Sheriff's
also does not know where Dr. Amaya has gone.
His supporters, patients who defend his medical practice, are quick
he is the only doctor who ever diagnosed their painful conditions.
he was mild-mannered and professional.
They are reluctant be named, however, saying people perceive them as
addicts, not chronic pain patients.
"He listens to us. He sees our pain, and he got us out of pain," said
Westminster woman who had been seeing Dr. Amaya for nearly three
was being treated for arthritis, degenerative disc disease and a
"I have admiration for the man," a Walhalla man diagnosed with lyme
said. "He figured out something that's been wrong with me for 30
But questions regarding his medical practices have lingered since
Dr. Amaya resigned from the staff of Oconee Memorial Hospital.
According to internal documents obtained by the Anderson Independent-
Dr. Amaya had been placed on hospital probation for a variety of
uncovered by a "quality improvement committee." According to a letter
addressed to Dr. Amaya, that committee recommended he attend
- his "polypharmacy practices," or mixing drugs to treat a single
- failing to document and support clinical findings and treatment
- questionable management of chronic pain
- his diagnosis of movement disorders and lyme disease.
The hospital confirmed the validity of those documents late last week,
saying the review was part of a process that all provisional doctors
through before determining whether they qualify for full, medical
Dr. Amaya resigned April 25, 2001, but because of the probationary
his clinical privileges, hospital officials said their findings were
over to the state board of medical examiners.
By law, the state board is not permitted to discuss complaints
doctor, spokesman Jim Knight said last week, therefore it is unclear
if any, measures the state was taking to monitor Dr. Amaya's medical
activity from that point on.
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