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Must work with chaperone at Guam Memorial Hospital

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News Dec. 5, 2008) – Anesthesiologist Dr. Russel Aubin can now practice medicine at Guam Memorial Hospital if he is chaperoned when he is with female patients.

GMH doctors voted yesterday to allow the anesthesiologist, who lost his license in two states after he was accused of fondling a sedated patient, to practice medicine at the Tamuning hospital.

Although Aubin was acquitted of second-degree sexual assault in 2006, both the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline and the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine revoked his licenses to practice.

Aubin was hired by GMH in November. Last Friday, the GMH Medical Executive Committee suspended his hospital privileges until the committee could review his case, said GMH Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Hoa Nguyen.

Yesterday, the committee reinstated Aubin's privileges.

Nguyen said an "overwhelming majority," including himself, felt it was in the best interest of the hospital and the people of Guam to let Aubin work.

"I asked for an open vote because I want them to vote and be proud of their vote," Nguyen said, adding later that "everyone that votes here has their professional status on it; ... I have lots of patients that trust me and I ask for that trust when we make decisions."

The Medical Executive Committee is composed of about 25 doctors, according to a roster provided by the hospital. Because it was a closed-door meeting, Nguyen declined to provide a record of how each doctor voted.

On Tuesday, Nguyen said the chaperoning will last at least a year. Aubin has a two-year contract with GMH and his performance will be reviewed every three months, Nguyen said.

"We are very confident that by giving him the opportunity to practice at GMH, we will actually improve the quality of care for the patients on the island, without any further unneeded risks to our patients and any unneeded risk for GMH," he said yesterday.

GMH Medical Director Dr. James Stadler said each doctor was given a chance to speak at yesterday's meeting.

Since Wednesday, committee members have reviewed Aubin's file, including a weeklong psychiatric evaluation of Aubin that was required by the Rhode Island Superior Court system, Stader said.

On Tuesday, Stadler said the evaluation indicated Aubin could work in a hospital if he were chaperoned. Despite the evaluation, the court system upheld the Rhode Island medical board's decision to revoke Aubin's license, according to court documents.

Stadler said the evaluation is confidential.

Aubin waited outside the meeting yesterday, dressed in a suit, but declined to be interviewed before entering. Aubin spoke and answered questions for about 10 minutes during yesterday's meeting, Stadler said.

"One of the questions that was interesting and illuminating that I think it was safe to reiterate was that one person asked Dr. Aubin, 'Why did you choose Guam?'" Stadler said.

Stadler said Aubin answered that he had applied for medical licenses in two or three other states but licensing boards had sent him "polite, succinct" rejection letters that said they didn't consider applicants who had their medical licenses revoked in other states.

Stadler said it was the policy of some boards to reject Aubin without even meeting him.

Sen. Frank Blas Jr. -- who is chairman of the legislative Committee on Health -- initially agreed with Nguyen that the public should trust the decision of the Medical Executive Committee.

"These are the individuals who have to work there, these are the individuals who our lives depend on when we need these services. I am very confident that, again at the end of the day, they are making sure those services are provided to our people," the senator said yesterday afternoon.

In a later interview, Sen. Blas said he wanted to know more about the decision. Sen. Blas wondered why the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline didn't restore Aubin's license after he was found not guilty.

The senator also questioned if the GMH committee explored specifically why some nurses were concerned about Aubin.

On Monday, senators and some Guam Federation of Teachers leaders received an e-mail from an anonymous source that claimed GMH nurses were uncomfortable chaperoning Aubin. Blas was among the senators who received the e-mail.

Since Monday, daily calls to the GFT, which represents some nurses, have been forwarded to President Matt Rector, but he has been unavailable for comment. Despite three calls yesterday, Rector couldn't be reached on his cell phone.

Nguyen said members of the community who didn't believe Aubin should be at GMH would change their mind if they had all the facts. The doctors who voted yesterday have thoroughly reviewed Aubin's case and spoken with him, Nguyen said.

"The public don't have all the details and all the story ... about his evaluations and his hearings so they don't have everything on the plate to make a consensus and good decision," he said.

Guam Nurses Association board member Tina Blas said yesterday that no nurses had spoken to her with concerns about Aubin.

If there were concerned nurses at the hospital, she urged them to give Aubin a chance. Tina Blas said it was possible that anesthetic drugs caused Aubin's patients to have delusions.

"As far as I am concerned, I am glad that the hospital decided to keep him on board," she said. "I, honestly, feel that medications work differently on different people and as far as I am concerned, some medications do cause hallucinations and hallucinations can feel as real as real can be."

GMH suffers from a crippling shortage of anesthesiologists, Nguyen said.

Many operations are delayed or canceled because they don't have enough staff. Nguyen has said that low salaries make it hard to attract and retain doctors.

Stadler said yesterday that GMH had lost two full-time anesthesiologists in the last month.

According to the GMH staffing pattern, Dr. Raymund Santos and Dr. Arnette Santos made about $80,000 less than the national average salary for anesthesiologists.

Neither works at the hospital anymore, Stadler said.

Dr. Vince Akimoto, secretary of the GMH medical staff, said the hospital was "not in a perfect situation," but Aubin had been scrutinized heavily on the mainland and in Guam.

Akimoto said the hospital needed Aubin, especially because a lot more surgeries are scheduled during the upcoming holiday season.

Akimoto didn't think Aubin's past would resurface at GMH. Akimoto attended the Medical Executive Committee meeting, but left before the vote.

"In reality, this is a doctor who may have made some mistakes and it looks like he's made a commitment to be better," Akimoto said.

"He's been given a second chance and if the guy screws up he's going to be giving trouble to a lot of people, including the medical staff who stood up for him," Akimoto said. "But I don't think the people of Guam will be left in this situation without a bunch of (staff) personally watching to make sure this goes all right

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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