Judge: Board erred in punishing doctor for retrieving pills

(AP) — A judge has overturned a Delaware medical licensing board’s disciplinary decision regarding a doctor accused of misconduct after allegedly allowing prison medical workers to give an inmate expensive pills that had been thrown into a syringe-filled “biohazard” medical waste box.

The board last year ordered 90 days of probation and a $1,000 fine for Dr. Laurie Ann Spraga after an incident in which 12 prescription hepatitis pills — costing $1,000 each — were discarded in a “biohazard” medical waste box after being spilled onto the floor. The pills were later retrieved and given to an inmate at the maximum-security prison in Smyrna.

State officials argued that Spraga was responsible for the incident. At the time, Spraga was the chief medical officer for Connections Community Support Programs, the contractor for the Department of Corrections. A spokesman for Connections said Tuesday that Spraga is no longer employed by the organization.

According to court records, a Maryland-based pharmacist working under contract for the DOC and supervising a pharmacist colleague based at the Delaware prison asked Spraga to arrange for the expensive pills to be retrieved, prompting Spraga to tell a nursing supervisor to do so.

A hearing examiner concluded as a matter of law that Spraga engaged in misconduct likely to harm the public.

But in a ruling dated Monday, Superior Court Judge Charles Butler noted that the hearing examiner also found that Spraga left the decision on reusing the pills to the two pharmacists for CorrectRx Pharmacy Services, which contracted with the DOC for its pharmacy operations.

“This was a dramatic departure from the state’s theory of liability,” Butler wrote.

The judge also questioned the hearing examiner’s conclusion that Spraga should be held accountable for failing to overrule the prison-based pharmacist who authorized returning the pills to the bottle and approved their administration to the inmate. The prisoner was told of the incident after the fact, but has suffered no ill effects.

In his ruling, Butler noted that the state presented no expert testimony, while two experts who testified on Spraga’s behalf said they would have ingested the pills. One of the experts was an infectious disease specialist who said administration of the pills was acceptable despite their “adventure” in a “sharps” container that contained, among other things, diabetic syringes and lancets.

Butler also ruled that the licensing board exceeded its authority in declaring that Spraga’s conduct brought discredit upon the medical profession, an accusation that was never brought up in arguments before the hearing examiner or the board itself. The board’s decision, he suggested, ignored Spraga’s due process rights.

Butler remanded the case to the board for further proceedings as it deems appropriate.

“The Division of Professional Regulation and the board are reviewing the ruling and will proceed in accordance with the judge’s order,” said Douglas Denison, a spokesman for the Department of State.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction had no immediate comment, while a spokesman for the Department of Justice, whose attorneys represented the board, said his agency had no comment.
Daniel Griffith, an attorney representing Spraga, did not immediately respond to an email seeing comment.

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