Med board: ABQ doctor tied to six patient deaths

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque psychiatrist has agreed to surrender his medical license amid allegations that six patients who received treatment at his practice died of overdoses and that an individual without a medical license was permitted to treat patients at his practice.

The surrender marks the culmination of a series of New Mexico Medical Board actions involving Edwin B. Hall dating back to 2016. Hall’s psychiatry practice, now closed, was at 1709 Girard NE.

Molly Schmidt-Nowara, an attorney with Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward P.A., who represented Hall during the board’s investigation, clarified information contained in regulatory filings but declined to comment for this story.

Under the terms of the March 27 agreement with the board that resulted in the voluntary license surrender, Hall admits no wrongdoing. He must pay $5,000 in fines and $2,500 in fees associated with a board investigation and has agreed not to reapply for a medical license in New Mexico.

A board spokeswoman said in an email that the agreement indicates the board had evidence that Hall “prescribed controlled substance medications and combinations of medications in a manner posing a threat to the health of his minor and adult patients, and six of his adult patients died as a result of an overdose.”

The Journal was unable to determine the names or circumstances of the six patient deaths. The spokeswoman said the information is confidential.

Among the other allegations against Hall contained in the agreement:

• That the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy identified Hall as a “high-risk prescriber.” The pharmacy board confirmed to the Journal that it identified Hall to the medical board as a practitioner whose prescribing of controlled substances and use of the prescription monitoring program database met “high-risk” criteria.

• That Hall signed applications for his patients seeking to obtain medical cannabis after his license was suspended by the board in October 2017.

• An individual without a New Mexico medical license who voluntarily surrendered his license in another jurisdiction for “prescribing issues that would constitute a violation of the (Medical Practices Act)” and inappropriate sexual contact with a patient, was allowed to treat patients and bill under Hall’s name and Medicaid number since at least the fall of 2013.

The agreement does not include any findings from the board regarding the allegations, although the order for Hall’s October 2017 suspension says the board had evidence Hall was allowing an unlicensed individual to treat patients in his practice.

A spokeswoman would not confirm the name of the person accused of practicing without a license under Hall’s name, saying that information beyond the public action is confidential.

However, on Oct. 23, the board sent a cease-and-desist letter to John Alexander Connell, saying Connell “diagnosed and treated patients in Dr. Hall’s practice … prescribed medication using Dr. Hall’s name … (and) billed for treatment of patients under Dr. Hall’s name.”

The spokeswoman said in an email that linking the agreement and the cease-and-desist letter “would not be inaccurate.”

Connell voluntarily surrendered his medical licenses in Georgia and New York in 2008 after Georgia’s medical board investigated him for “writing a prescription for a dangerous drug” for a new patient without examining him and engaging in a sexual relationship with another patient, according to documents from the medical boards in both states.

Connell could not be reached for comment. Phone numbers associated with his name and address reached a message saying the number has been disconnected, and pending lawsuits to which Connell is a party do not list any attorney information for him.

Asked whether any further action was being taken by the board against Connell, the spokeswoman said the cease-and-desist letter was turned over to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office for review.

“The (board) does not have jurisdiction over John Alexander Connell because he is not licensed,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the office will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

The New Mexico Courts website currently shows two lawsuits pending against Hall in which Connell is either a defendant or is referred to in the complaint, both filed May 24 in Bernalillo District Court.

In one, Sylvie Schultz, the mother of Skyler Nicole Montano, accuses both men of medical negligence in the 2017 accidental overdose death of Montano, among other accusations.

Medical examiners found Montano had ingested high levels of alprazolam and amphetamine, according to the lawsuit; they also identified codeine and heroin in her system. Schultz is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the case.

It is unclear whether Montano was one of the six patients referred to in the medical board agreement.

Lori Bencoe, an attorney with Bencoe & LaCour Law, P.C., who is representing the plaintiff in the case, said the board informed Schultz that Montano was one of the six patient deaths associated with the investigation.

No attorney information is listed for Hall or Connell in the case.

Attorney Remo Gay, who represents Hall in another lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment.

Gay represents Hall in a medical malpractice suit brought by Teresa Bunney, who alleges she was treated by and had her medication adjusted by Connell, who she was never told was unlicensed. Bunney is seeking damages for future medical costs, among other remedies.

Gay declined to comment on the Bunney case.

Bunney is represented by attorney Al Thiel of Will Ferguson & Associates. Thiel said his firm is representing two individuals in separate lawsuits against Hall. None of those individuals is connected to the alleged deaths, according to Thiel.

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