Report says Christiansen tried to practice
medicine while license suspended
Aug 04, 2006 - Dr. Lance Christiansen may have tried to continue practicing even after his medical license was suspended last June, according to recently released state documents.
Christiansen's license was suspended after state Department of Health officials alleged the Toledo osteopath's incompetence and strong narcotic prescriptions caused the deaths of six patients. Christiansen appealed the finding but was strictly forbidden from practicing medicine until the matter was resolved. In February he abruptly agreed to permanently surrender his license just weeks before the schedule hearing on the matter.
But in November the state received a complaint that Christiansen had contacted one of his former physicians assistant with a request to do a specific work up of a former patient. The assistant was now treating the patient at another doctor's office and had just seen the patient before Christiansen's call, according to a complaint letter filed with the state.
The assistant's boss - both names were redacted from the state files - contacted Dr. Diana Yu, the Lewis County Health Officer, about the matter. Yu in turn contacted the state.
"It seemed like he was trying to continue to manage some of his former patients through her," the assistant's boss wrote. "This is unacceptable, and from what I understand if his license is still suspended it is illegal."
State officials seemed to agree. In a Nov. 29, 2005, memo to fellow health department officials, Lisa Noonan, with the state's medical disciplinary program, wrote that the case should be treated on a "fast track" basis and presented to the review board before the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
A few days later, Yu again contacted state officials, saying Christiansen had called her about what he believed was as rheumatic fever "epidemic" in Lewis County, which he likened to a third world country. Christiansen said he was worried that other doctors didn't believe his diagnosis and thus weren't treating his patients correctly.
Christiansen's self-developed rheumatic fever diagnosis has been debunked by several doctors and medical experts working for the state, but Christiansen has written that they just don't understand the problem as he does. Yu said his definition of rheumatic fever doesn't match hers, which is based on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standard.
Christiansen was sitting at his desk in his doctor's office, looking through patient files during the Dec. 6 call, which prompted Yu to report the call to the state.
Wednesday, Yu said she didn't know if Christiansen was still treating patients or not, but she wanted to err on the side of caution.
"When you're not allowed to practice, you're not allowed to practice. So what are you doing in the office looking the charts?" Yu said of her concern. "But maybe he was just concerned and you can't just stop caring. A lot of his patients said he really was a caring person."
Several of Christiansen's former patients complained to state and county officials that they couldn't find new doctors in the months after his suspension.
An insurance company also notified the state in September that it received a bill listing Christiansen as the treating physician. The June bill dated from six days after his license suspension. Christiansen's office manager and physician's assistant told investigators it was a clerical error and that the physicians assistant Julian Rodriguez treated the patient.
The state's investigation ended when Christiansen surrendered his license. The files were closed and all inquiries were dropped because the maximum penalty the Department of Health could impose was the loss of his license.
Toledo doctor accused in
six additional patient deaths
Aug 04, 2006 - Newly released complaints filed with the state blamed Dr. Lance Christiansen for six patient deaths in addition to the 10 previously alleged by the state, civil lawsuits and family members.
The Toledo osteopath -- who gave up his license earlier this year amid the initial allegations -- has not been proved to be at fault in any of the cases.
But the new complaints raise the total number of questionable deaths to 16.They also detail more concern -- at least among relatives of the deceased patients -- about Christiansen's overall competence.
The six new death cases were part of two dozen complaints filed after the public learned the state suspended Christiansen's license in June of 2005. Investigators in 2005 said his incompetence and misdiagnoses killed six patients.
Some of the newer complaints were similar to the initial cases cited by the state. Several included concerns about Christiansen's controversial diagnosis of widespread rheumatic fever and the heavy doses of narcotics such as methadone and Oxycontin he prescribed. Others, though, detail allegations of missed tumors, fatal drug interactions and prescriptions made by telephone with no physical exam.
Many of the newer complaints were not extensively investigated by state health officials because similar cases already were in the system, according to notes in the state files. It is unknown whether state experts would have concluded Christiansen was to blame in any of the newer death complaints.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jeremy Randolph, though, said news of additional patient deaths heightens his interest in a possible criminal case against the doctor.
A criminal case would likely focus on Christiansen's controversial rheumatic fever diagnosis and treatment -- which several other doctors and coroners questioned through the years. That's because a prosecutor would have to show that Christiansen was more than just sloppy or mistaken to charge him as criminally responsible for the patient deaths, Randolph said.
"(You look at) how much notice did he have that his therapy was not working and killing people," Randolph said, stressing he hasn't seen the more recent complaints. "I think it was a matter of him just plain thinking he knew more than anyone else and just kept driving with that. Whether or not that gets us to the point of criminal negligence is still unknown."
Still, Randolph said he'd want to see all the allegations before deciding whether to file criminal negligence charges against Christiansen. He's not sure when he'll decide whether to charge Christiansen, in part because county law enforcement officials have been tied up with other investigations.
All the Department of Health investigations were halted once Christiansen surrendered his license, because the most health officials could do was take away his license.
Twenty civil malpractice lawsuits against Christiansen remain active but likely won't go to trial for several months, said John Schedler, Christiansen's lawyer.
Four of the lawsuits involved patient deaths; three of those name patients not included in the original state investigation. Kelso widow Kelly Hensley also is considering suing for the 2005 death of her husband.
Schedler declined to comment on the newly released death complaints, and Christiansen could not be reached for comment. Randolph says he believes Christiansen has moved to a small Mexican village since surrendering his license and selling his three Mount St. Helens clinics in Toledo, Winlock and Onalaska.
The state redacted the names of all the patients and their relatives, citing health care privacy rules. None of the six, though, appear to be the deceased patients named in the civil lawsuits, based on their ages, and dates and details of their deaths.
The six deaths in the newly released complaints are:
- A 38-year-old Everett, Wash., man who drowned in his bathtub in August of 2002 after ingesting narcotics prescribed by Christiansen. The man's family said Christiansen got the father of three addicted to narcotics while treating him for a back injury. His two youngest daughters, ages 13 and 11, were the ones to find and pull him out of the tub, his sister's complaint letter reads. "Dr. Christiansen needs to be held accountable for the death of our brother and father of three girls," the sister wrote. "I can not stress what a crime it is to allow a doctor to take such a young life without accountability."
An 88-year-old man who died in 2005 after Christiansen prescribed two heart medications that shouldn't be taken together, according to the man's daughter. Other doctors said the medications are dangerous when combined, she wrote in her complaint letter. Christiansen had treated the man before, but this time prescribed the medication by telephone and fax without seeing or examining him, his daughter wrote. The state warns physicians not to do this except in extreme cases. Within two months of the prescription, the man died. The man's daughter also said that 13 years earlier Christiansen had diagnosed her mother with a gall bladder infection that another doctor later discovered was a 10 pound tumor.
- A 72-year-old man who died in 2000 from cancer that spread from what Christiansen had diagnosed as a benign fatty tumor, according to the man's wife. After she demanded another doctor the wife was told the tumor -- now the size of a baseball -- should have been removed from his knee and that the cancer had spread to her husband's brain and lungs. He died 42 days later. "I feel Christiansen killed my husband because he did not try to do anything for months," the widow wrote.
- A 77-year-old woman who was not diagnosed quickly enough with cancer in her lymph nodes, according to her daughter and sister. Christiansen told her it was a goiter and not cancerous for a year, according to the women. Eight months after the tumor was finally discovered in May of 1998, the woman was dead.
- A Cowlitz County patient in his or her late 40s who overdosed in 2002 on medicine prescribed by Christiansen. The investigative file included 40 pages of prescriptions beginning in 1998. The complaint was made anonymously.
- A woman, age unknown, who overdosed in October 2002 while taking morphine, methadone and Oxycontin among other drugs prescribed by Christiansen. The husband originally thought his wife made a mistake in the dosages, but after learning of the state's allegations against Christiansen he filed a formal complaint.
CR patients defend Christiansen
Jul 07, 2005 - Deone Washington doesn't care what people say, he knows in his heart Dr. Lance Christiansen is a good man.
Christiansen, a Toledo osteopath, is the only doctor who ever took the time to talk with him, Washington said, and even harmonized with the gospel singer during his appointments. And, when Washington's mother and son died, Christiansen sent him a condolence letter each time.
So Washington, 53, is furious the state suspended Christiansen's license last month after officials said his incompetence and over-prescribing of narcotics led to six patients' deaths. And Washington doesn't understand why others have complained about Christiansen's treatment.
A Napavine widow has sued Christiansen for her husband's death and a Kelso widow is weighing her options after her husband's February death. Lewis County officials also launched a criminal investigation into the deaths. Christiansen is appealing the state suspension, calling the allegations "a smear."
"I don't mean to slight the others, but I know this is not the guy they talk about because if he was, I wouldn't go to him," Washington said from his Castle Rock home. He saw Christiansen for a number of complaints during the past year, including a bad knee, prostrate cancer and high blood pressure, and said Christiansen was the one doctor to give him hope.
"Everyone makes him out to sound like some great big vampire or something, but he's not," Washington said. "I like my doctor. I feel confident in my doctor. And I just had to say something."
Maxine Zueger, a patient of Christiansen's for 15 years, knows just what he means.
The 68-year-old Castle Rock woman credits Christiansen with saving her life when other doctors loaded her up with various prescriptions. She said, the doctor is a kind, caring man "who never turned anyone away." And she gets livid every time she sees a new article about the case.
"He was one of the best men I ever met," Zueger said. "I just can't stand these people trying to damage him."
The state has blamed Christiansen for six fatal patient overdoses, but Washington and Zueger both said that doesn't faze them. Without knowing the specifics of the cases, they think at least some of the responsibility belongs to the pharmacists who filled the prescriptions. And they also wonder if the patients followed the doctor's instructions properly.
Both said whenever Christiansen prescribed medication he gave them strict instructions on how to use it. And Washington said if Christiansen really was over-prescribing narcotics as the state alleges, there should have been warning signs well before patients started dying. (Some 2003 complaints against the doctor do predate the six patient deaths. Reports of the deaths caused the state to fast-track the investigation).
And while Christiansen reportedly told several patients they a had rheumatic fever -- including several of the patient cases investigated by the state -- Washington and Zueger say Christiansen never diagnosed them with the condition.
What they want, each said, is Christiansen's license reinstated so they can return to the doctor they so trust. Washington is on the waiting list with a Longview doctor, but hopes he won't need to use the appointment. And Zueger says she's too upset to even start looking for a new doctor .
"I'm telling the state 'You took him away from me, you find me a doctor,'" she said.
Doctor Suspended for Overprescribing
Plans To Fight For License
6/10/05 CHEHALIS, Wash. - An osteopathic physician plans to fight a license
suspension stemming from allegations he overprescribed drugs, leading to the
deaths of several patients.
The state Board of Osteopathic Medicine and the Department of Health
suspended Dr. Lance W. Christiansen's license last week, citing concerns he
posed "a serious danger to the healthy, safety, and welfare of the public."
Christiansen was ordered to stop practicing medicine immediately pending
the outcome of a hearing. He will try to get his license back, attorney
Jonathan Meyer said this week.
"We're going to fight the suspension," Meyer said. "Obviously, he's taking
(the allegations) seriously."
Christiansen is accused of failing to perform physical exams on eight
patients, making unsubstantiated diagnoses, failing to maintain adequate
records and failing to consult with specialists or follow the
recommendations of specialists.
The charges say six of Christiansen's patients died from overdoses of
drugs, including methadone, prescribed by Christiansen. One patient's death
was determined to be a suicide, the others accidental.
Meanwhile, authorities in Lewis, Thurston and Mason counties have been
discussing a rising number of deaths and other problems stemming from
prescription drug abuse.
"It's not just one doctor, it's not just one problem," said Dr. Diana Yu,
the public health officer for Lewis and Thurston counties.
Doctor Suspended, Accused Of Over-Prescribing
June 3, 2005 OLYMPIA - An osteopathic physician's license was suspended by the state
after allegations he overprescribed controlled drugs that led to several overdose
deaths of his patients.
Dr. Lance W. Christiansen has 10 days to request a hearing and 20 days to
respond to the statement of charges.
His license was suspended Wednesday by the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and
the Department of Health, citing concerns he posed "a serious danger to the
healthy, safety, and welfare of the public." Christiansen must immediately
stop practicing medicine until the outcome of a hearing.
A message left at his Toledo office was not immediately returned Friday.
Christiansen is accused of failing to perform physical exams on eight
patients, making unsubstantiated diagnoses, failing to maintain adequate records
and failing to consult with specialists or follow the recommendations of
specialists. Six of the patients died of overdoses of drugs, including methadone,
prescribed to them by Christiansen, according to the charges. One of the
patients' death was determined to be a suicide, the others were accidental.
The Health Department said it has made provisions for Christiansen's three
Mount St. Helens clinics to remain open in Toledo, Winlock and Onalaska because
they serve rural areas.