Payette Clinic nurse barred from prescribing narcotics

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A Vancouver nurse practitioner accused of doling out excessive amounts of pain medication won’t be able to prescribe narcotics to patients for the next two years, Washington Department of Health officials have ruled.

The sanction last month against Kelly M. Bell is the latest in a nearly yearlong investigation of the Payette Clinic, a Vancouver pain clinic linked to an overdose death of an Oregon teen. Bell co-owns the clinic.

Bell forfeited her license to prescribe opioids last spring to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The new state sanction means Bell will have to complete a graduate-level degree program in pain management before getting her prescribing abilities back in two years, said Gordon MacCracken, spokesman for the Department of Health.

In addition, health officials plan to conduct audits of the pain clinic to ensure Bell is not prescribing narcotics.

“If any further complaints arise, there would be an investigation,” MacCracken said, adding that the probe is currently considered closed.

According to public Department of Health (DOH) documents, Bell did not contest the sanction.

Calls to the Payette Clinic, which remains open, were not returned Thursday.

The Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission and DOH began investigating Bell after receiving numerous complaints from patients and pharmacists.

In nine such complaints, health officials found Bell was prescribing “extremely high doses of opioids,” which placed patients “at risk of serious physical harm or death.”

The first complaint was reported in December 2005 by a patient being seen for back and knee problems related to fibromyalgia, according to documents. The most recent complaint was filed in September 2006 by a patient reporting an unspecified chronic pain.

In these and other complaints, Bell treated patients “without appropriate assessment or appropriate ongoing monitoring,” according to the DOH.

Health officials did, however, find mitigating factors. They believe Bell showed “potential for successful rehabilitation” and displayed no “dishonest or selfish motives,” according to DOH charging papers.

The case caused a public health crisis last spring, doctors said, as hundreds of Payette patients no longer receiving medication swarmed hospitals and urgent care centers.

The case also sparked a $1.3 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Payette Clinic. The suit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by the parents of the Oregon teenager who died of an overdose after smoking an oxycodone pill originally prescribed to a Payette patient.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said Thursday that no criminal charges have been brought against Bell.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.