State health board disciplines city heart surgeon

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 17, 2012 at 10:39 PM

The Tennessee Department of Health’s Board of Medical Examiners has found Dr. William Walker guilty of gross malpractice and placed his license under probation for five years.

The Johnson City heart surgeon, who pleaded guilty in February to multiple criminal charges of obtaining drugs by fraud, was also ordered by the health board to pay a $4,000 civil penalty and to adhere to the requirements of a professional assistance program as a condition of his license probation.

The disciplinary action was imposed by the board on March 29 in a “consent order” in which Walker waived his right to appeal and agreed to a brief stipulation of facts.

The stipulation states Walker prescribed narcotics to three of his colleagues and a fourth person, who were identified only as K.T., D.M., D.L. and T.T., respectively, outside of any doctor-patient relationship and in violation of two state laws governing the practice of medicine.

The stipulation does not include any reference to Walker fraudulently obtaining the narcotics for his own use or to his being under the influence of the drugs while he practiced medicine, including during surgery, as he testified during his Criminal Court proceedings.

According to the health board, Walker’s statutory practice violations constitute “gross malpractice or a pattern of continued and repeated malpractice, ignorance, negligence or incompetence in the course of medical practice” and “dispensing, prescribing or otherwise distributing any controlled substance or any other drug not in the course of professional practice.”

The board set the probationary term against his license retroactive to Sept. 27, 2011, when Walker entered a contract with the Tennessee Medical Foundation, a peer-assisted counseling and rehabilitation program for medical doctors.

The disciplinary order requires the TMF to provide quarterly reports to the board regarding Walker’s compliance and fitness to practice. The order futher states that “upon re-entering practice,” the board will select a person to supervise his practice for one year.

Upon Walker’s successful completion of those requirements, his license probation “may be lifted at the board’s discretion,” the order states.

Walker, 54, pleaded guilty to 34 counts of obtaining narcotics by fraud and received a 5-year probation sentence in Washington County Criminal Court on Feb. 15.

In imposing the sentence, Judge Lynn Brown granted Walker “judicial diversion,” which will remove the convictions from his record upon his successful completion of the probation term.

Walker was indicted on the charges in November following an investigation by the Johnson City Police Department and Mountain States Health Alliance. He and three people on his surgical staff — a physician’s assistant, a cardiac nurse and a surgical technician — were fired as a result of the investigation.

Investigators reported Walker prescribed the drugs to the staff members, who filled prescriptions and returned the drugs to him in a scheme that had continued since at least 2008.

Walker testified in February he became addicted to hydrocodone after suffering an orthopedic condition and his addiction quickly progressed to a 10-12 pill-a-day habit. Under questioning from prosecutors, he acknowledged he performed surgery while under the influence of the drugs but said “most of the time it was after surgery or between surgeries.”

Walker testified he contacted the TMF in 2011 after he realized he needed help and a few days later entered residential treatment program, where he remained for the six months. The director of the TMF testified Walker was successful and compliant in the program, including random drug screens.

Brown ruled if TMF discontinues Walker’s supervision at any time during his criminal probation term, he must report to the state probation office for supervision.

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