One of Lake Chelan Clinic’s five doctor-owners was ousted by a vote of his fellow physicians last week, and says it’s in part due to his advocacy of medical marijuana.
Dr. Michael Travers, 70, says his four partners drove him out because they disagreed with his medical strategies, including his recommendations of marijuana for some uses.
The resolution firing Travers does not cite specific reasons, aside from accusing him of raising his voice to employees twice in April, including clinic administrator Barbara Berg.
Travers, who said he’s written about 60 physician recommendations for cannabis in the last 16 years, claims his partners told him in January they wanted him to leave the clinic. In April, at a board meeting Travers did not attend, the doctors adopted a clinic-wide policy against issuing new marijuana recommendations or renewing current ones.
Travers was formally voted out as a clinic shareholder and employee June 4. His four fellow doctors — Martin Clements, Tobe Harberd, Amy Hutton and Jay Waskewitz — all signed the resolution, a copy of which was provided by Travers to The Wenatchee World.
Travers said he’s been working without pay since the board cut off his salary two months ago, but must continue to practice at the clinic until Dec. 4 under the terms of his contract. The salary suspension stemmed from a claim that Travers owed the private clinic about $24,000, having generated more costs than fees.
Travers said other clinic doctors have sometimes worked with unbalanced books, but haven’t suffered a salary freeze.
“This was an attempt to force me out,” he said.
A statement from adminstrator Barbara Berg said the 50-year-old clinic would not “comment publicly on confidential personnel matters.”
“The Lake Chelan Clinic is committed to providing quality care and continuity of care to all of its patients, including patients seen by Dr. Travers,” the statement read.
Travers said his attorney, Scott Kane of East Wenatchee, is reviewing the situation.
Travers has been open in his belief that marijuana can help some patients suffering from chronic pain and neurological conditions. Cannabis can’t be formally prescribed under federal law, but Washington law allows doctors to issue written “recommendations” for patients they believe might benefit from it. Patients holding such recommendations can then grow or buy limited amounts of marijuana for personal use, safe from state prosecution.
Lake Chelan Clinic’s no-cannabis policy cites the tension between state and federal laws on marijuana as treatment.
The clinic “found it to be wiser to await further clarification from a federal standpoint before proceeding any further with the use of medical cannabis in their patient population,” according to a second statement provided by Berg. “... The Lake Chelan Clinic shareholders felt this change in policy put them in line with the standard of care in our community and was in the best interest of patient care.”
The statement notes that other clinics or hospitals in NCW do not offer medical marijuana recommendations. But they also do not have formal written policies against cannabis for treatment.
Central Washington Hospital forbids the use of medical marijuana on its grounds, but is still finalizing an actual policy on recommendations, said executive administrative assistant Anne Wagg. Dr. Malcolm Butler, medical director of Columbia Valley Community Health, said his center does not forbid cannabis recommendations, but its general standards of practice don’t condone the practice.
Butler said a CVCH doctor who advised marijuana use wouldn’t necessarily face sanction, but would be asked to cite medical research to support the treatment. Such research on marijuana is limited.
Butler said clinics at large have wrestled with the marijuana issue in part because they fear losing their authority to prescribe pharmaceuticals, which is granted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I think in all cases, there has to be a balance between best available evidence and protecting the practice — or maybe a better way to put it is practicing safe medicince,” Butler said. “... Until we have good evidence that the use of medical marijuana is safe and effective, even though the DEA doesn’t think it is, it’s best to err on the side of caution.”
Travers’s son-in-law Joseph Amendolare, 31, is among his patients, and Travers recommended marijuana for control of his epilepsy. Amendolare campaigned last year for zoning to allow collective cannabis gardens, managed by medical users and their providers, within the limits of Chelan. Travers also spoke at a city council meeting in support of the measure.
Chelan last month changed its zoning to permit such collective gardens “so long as they are authorized by state law and federal law” — language that essentially prohibits them.
Amendolare made further news last fall when the co-op marijuana garden he ran at his home just outside Chelan was raided by the Columbia River Drug Task Force. Police believed the garden, run under Amendolare’s Compassionate Health Care Collective, was producing more pot than allowed under state law.
Prosecutors ultimately found the 45 viable plants Amendolare possessed were within the number allowed, and the sole charge of unlawful marijuana cultivation brought against him was dropped. But his wife Tamara, 31 — Travers’ daughter — was later charged with possessing hallucinogenic mushroom based on drugs police claimed to find during the same raid. She’s awaiting trial.
Travers said his dismissal from the clinic may be related to his family’s situation. “It became public, and I think a couple of my partners are embarrassed,” he said.
Travers said 80 percent of his marijuana recommendations are for patients with chronic pain, and he’d likely keep that option if he sets up his own practice after his December departure from Lake Chelan Clinic.
“You do have illicit drugs and illicit use of marijuana, and I don’t support that,” he said. “But I’ve also got a number of people who benefit from it, and in particular, people in pain. ... That Vicodin that got prescribed for your back is much more likely to kill you than a joint is.”
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Author: Jefferson Robbins
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