The board that supervises Wisconsin physicians reprimanded seven doctors Wednesday who were accused of writing sick notes for protesters to cover their time at last spring's massive demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining law.
In identical agreements with each doctor, the Medical Examining Board noted that each of them provided work excuse notes to patients without adequately documenting the interaction in their records. Dr. Sujatha Kailas, the board's chairwoman, said in a statement the board couldn't determine whether the doctors examined the protesters to justify the excuses.
Besides the reprimands, the board ordered the physicians to take four hours of continued education in medical record-keeping. They also must reimburse the Department of Safety and Professional Services, the state agency that oversees the medical board, for the hundreds of dollars in costs of the board's proceedings against them.
The physicians' attorney, Patricia Epstein, said the reprimands will become part of their permanent record. They deserved less severe discipline for a record-keeping violation, but she said she agreed to the stipulations because "it was clear that was what the board wanted."
"It's a permanent mark on these doctors' licenses," she said. "They'll carry it with them for the rest of their careers."
Thousands of people converged on the state Capitol in February and March to protest Walker's union law. The measure requires most public workers to contribute more to their health care and pensions and strips them of almost all their collective bargaining rights. The demonstrations went on around the clock for three weeks.
Many of the demonstrators were teachers, and two-thirds of Madison teachers lost pay for missing at least one of four days in February to join the protests. Eighty-four of them were found to have submitted sick notes that appeared to come from doctors at the demonstrations on Feb. 19.
The Wisconsin Medical Society has criticized the doctors, saying issuing the notes threatened public trust in the medical profession.
One of the seven doctors disciplined Wednesday, Adam Balin, works for Dean Clinic. The other six _ Louis Sanner, Kathleen Oriel, James Shropshire, Hannah Keevil, Bernard Micke and Mark Beamsley _ are affiliated with the University of Wisconsin's medical arm.
The six were part of a group of 22 UW physicians whom the university's medical school investigated earlier this year for allegedly handing out sick notes to demonstrators. The school determined that some of that group didn't hand out any notes. Others were disciplined with punishments ranging from written reprimands to the loss of pay and leadership positions. One of the physicians is appealing his discipline and has a hearing set for Nov. 29, Lisa Brunette, a medical school spokeswoman, wrote in an email Wednesday.
She declined to say how many doctors were disciplined and how many were not and declined to offer any further comment, citing the pending appeal. The Wisconsin State Journal newspaper has identified the doctor appealing his discipline as Sanner. He didn't immediately return a message from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The board, which deliberated on the doctors' discipline in closed session, also issued warnings Wednesday to two other UW doctors, Patrick McKenna and Ronni Hayon, for writing sick notes for protesters. DSPS executive assistant John Murray would say only that the evidence showed a "lesser degree of culpability" for McKenna and Hayon. Their attorney, Marie Stanton, declined to comment.