Madigan suspends PTSD psychiatrist

Doctor asks Sen. Murray for aid after receiving memo

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A Madigan Army Medical Center psychiatrist has been suspended from hospital duties because he allegedly practiced outside the scope of his clinical privileges and did not keep patient records properly.

Dr. Russel Hicks, a senior member of Madigan's staff with 15 years of service, received a Jan. 17 memorandum that informed him his privileges were in "abeyance."

During an initial investigation that could last a month or more, he must refrain from any diagnosis, prescriptions, charting or treatment.

Hicks, in a letter to Madigan's credential's committee, said he believes the actions were in retaliation for information he offered Army investigators who last year examined diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder at the hospital.

Hicks has shared the documents detailing his suspension with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The Jan. 17 memorandum sent to Hicks does not detail any allegations against him or how he posed a risk to patients.

Hicks, in his response to the memorandum, says the suspension was the first time he was informed of any problems with his care, and that he was concerned his removal from practice could disrupt the care of some of his patients addicted to painkillers.

Madigan officials said they could not comment specifically on Hicks' case, but that such actions are to protect patients.

Hicks' suspension is the latest development in a turbulent 12-month period for Madigan behavioral-health staff members, who treat soldiers who return from war with PTSD and other mental-health problems. Last year, the Army launched investigations into how Madigan staff screen PTSD patients under consideration for medical retirement. During that investigation, two doctors were temporarily barred from clinical duties.

The diagnosis of PTSD has become a critical issue in the military in the aftermath of a 2008 change in law that mandated soldiers unable to serve due to the disability be qualified for medical retirement with pension and other benefits.

Madigan set up a team of forensic psychiatrists to screen patients under consideration for such retirement. It reversed more than 300 PTSD diagnoses.But the screening team was suspended and then permanently curtailed last year. Many patients were re-evaluated and had their PTSD diagnoses reinstated.

Hicks is a retired Army colonel and a former psychiatry department chairman. He headed an intensive outpatient treatment program for PTSD. The program's 2010 closure was investigated last year.

Last February, then-Rep. Norm Dicks, of Bremerton, expressed concerns that the treatment program ran into trouble when its staff diagnosed too many patients with PTSD. Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general, said that program did not go away, but was merged with other treatment efforts.