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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Pain Clinic Blamed for Two Women’s Deaths

VANCOUVER, Wash. (CN) - A pain management clinic prescribed lethally high doses of opiates, though it knew that five of its patients already had died from overdoses, two women's survivors say in a complaint of wrongful death and medical malpractice.

Federal officials have investigated the defendant Payette Clinic after a number of opiate overdoses were linked to nurse practitioners at the clinic, according to The Oregonian newspaper. In a March 13, 2009 story, The Oregonian reported that the clinic "has been the target of more than 40 complaints since 2006," and that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Washington State Nursing Care Quality were both investigating "a 'bundle' of complaints filed against the clinic since it opened in fall 2005."

Federal drug agents "raided" the clinic days after that Oregonian story, and seized records, the newspaper reported. A high school senior had died, allegedly after buying oxycodone pills from a Payette Clinic patient. "The clinic opened in the fall of 2005, and has been run solely by nurse practitioners," The Oregonian reported.

In the recent wrongful death complaint in Clark County Court, the estates of Deborah E. Reid and Karen Stransky, who died of opiate overdoses in 2008 and 2009, say the Payette Clinic and its founder Kelly Bell had a "history and tendency to be overzealous in prescribing and establishing clientele for a pain management clinic."

Bell, a defendant, was fired for starting a pain management practice at an urgent care center where she worked, and opened Payette Clinic in 2005, which she operated with defendants Scott Pecora and Penny Steers, according to the complaint.

"The Payette Clinic was started by Kelly Bell after she was fired from an Urgent Family Care practice," the complaint states. "The State of Washington, Department of Public Health records reveal she was terminated in February 2005 after a doctor employing Kelly Bell had three meetings with Kelly Bell directing her not to begin a pain management practice within the employer's clinic. A doctor at the employer's clinic stated that he was not ready to start a pain management practice at the Urgent Care Clinic. However, Kelly Bell had 40 patients in two months in a pain management program. Kelly Bell was terminated because she was not authorized to provide a pain management program to patients. At all times mentioned herein, Payette Clinic and Kelly Bell knew of Bell's history and tendency to be overzealous in prescribing and establishing clientele for a pain management clinic."

The Washington Department of Health reported that five people died from methadone and morphine intoxication before Deborah Reid died in 2008, for overdoses "attributable to the Payette Clinic," according to the complaint.

Citing "Medical Examiner Reports - Overdose Attributed to Payette Clinic," the complaint stated that people died on Jan. 12, 2007 of methadone intoxication; Jan. 14, 2007 of morphine and Venlafaxine intoxication; on Jan. 21, 2007 of methadone intoxication; on Sept. 11, 2007 of methadone intoxication; and on Nov. 6, 2007 of methadone intoxication, before Deborah Reid died on Jan. 8, 2008, of "Opiate intoxication (morphine, hydromorphine, methadone)."

The women's estates say, "Payette Clinic practitioners continued to prescribe quantities of controlled substances numerous times beyond Washington State's published guidelines on opioid dosing for chronic, non-cancer pain."

According to the complaint, when pharmacies complained of the clinic's "excessive" prescriptions, Bell left a message with a pharmacy that stated, in part: "I've had numerous patients being refused care that have been going there for two years, um, and, and all of a sudden I'm supposed to be producing medical records, um, when I've already provided a diagnostic list. And quite frankly, if this continues, I'm pulling all my business ... and I'm sure that's worth about a million dollars. ... I'm tired of hearing the last two weeks complaint after complaint after complaint after complaint ..."

According to the complaint, when a pharmacy complained about defendant a Penny Steers' prescription for Oxycontin, she left the pharmacy this message, which is quoted in part: "I had ordered Oxycontins, um, every six hours for a patient of ours - I got a note from her that said the drug rep for Oxycontin for you guys says there's no reason to do this. Well, I don't need to send any documentation. If I want to order every two hours, I can order it every goddamn two hours. It doesn't make any difference. ... This is ridiculous."

Based on the complaints linked to the clinic, DEA agents raided Payette in March 2009, and the Washington State Department of Health investigated the nurses there.

The estates of Deborah Reid and Karen Stransky seek damages from Payette Clinics, Scott Pecora, Kelly Bell and Kelly Steer. They allege medical malpractice and wrongful death. They are represented by Linda Williams with Kafoury & McDougal, or Portland, Ore.

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