January 1, 1997 in Nation/World

Amend Keeps License But Must Pay Fine Panel Tells Spokane County Coroner To Undergo Sensitivity Training

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane County Coroner Dexter Amend can still be called “doctor.”

A state disciplinary panel, which weighed charges in four of Amend’s controversial death investigations, announced Tuesday that he can keep his medical license.

The panel - made up of five doctors - effectively slapped Amend on the wrist for “moderate” unprofessional conduct in three of the four investigations.

The 77-year-old retired urologist must pay a $1,000 fine within six months and undergo 20 hours of sensitivity training within a year. The training covers communication skills, professional relationships and ethics.

“I know some people might be disappointed in the sanctions,” said Mike Farrell, the Department of Health staff attorney assigned to the case. “The department believes the order as a whole sends a message to the public that Dr. Amend’s conduct was - or rather, is - unacceptable.”

Amend has 10 days to file for reconsideration from the commission and 30 days to petition the Superior Court for review. That decision hasn’t yet been made, said Hugh Lackie, Amend’s lawyer.

“I still feel very strongly they should never have brought this case in the first place,” Lackie said.

Amend didn’t return telephone calls for comment.

County taxpayers shelled out more than $33,000 defending Amend’s medical license, which he doesn’t need to serve as coroner.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission charged Amend in March with unprofessional conduct in the death investigations of Rachel Carver, Kendra Grantham, Mario Lozada and Jeffrey Himes.

Lackie argued that the medical board had no authority to bring the case because Amend investigated deaths as county coroner, not as a doctor.

The state attorney general’s office said Amend represented himself as a doctor, signing letters and death certificates as a doctor and relying on his medical background in making decisions.

The medical panel concluded Amend’s actions lowered the standing of the medical profession in the public’s eyes, but the unprofessional conduct was only moderate.

Amend was accused of asking inappropriate sexual questions of the families of Grantham and Himes and making poor medical decisions in the deaths of Carver and Lozada.

The commission decided that Amend prematurely released autopsy findings on Carver without considering her family’s emotional state.

Amend said publicly the 9-year-old was sodomized for most of her life and blamed “the homosexual lifestyle” for the abuse.

The commission also decided Amend asked questions in an inappropriate manner to family members of Grantham and Himes regarding possible sexual activities.

Amend asked Grantham’s mother if gang members sodomized her 16-year-old daughter, who died after being shot in the head, and a 2-year-old girl her daughter knew.

He asked Himes’ 13-year-old brother and mother whether the 11-year-old was using drugs, masturbating or engaging in other sexual activity.

The panel dismissed charges regarding Amend’s failure to correct Lozada’s death certificate and his alleged poor medical conclusions.

In deciding punishment, the commission considered Amend’s lack of disciplinary history and his service as a volunteer physician at the Union Gospel Mission.

Mission Executive Director Phil Altmeyer said the medical panel’s decision restored his confidence in the system.

“Obviously he’s helped a lot of homeless men,” Altmeyer said. “He’s spearheaded the whole thing, set the clinic up.”

Amend’s 2-1/2 day hearing in Spokane coincided with the region’s devastating ice storm in November.

The action by the medical commission was the latest in a barrage of actions against Amend. Most have either failed or are pending.

Five grieving families have filed claims with the county. Only two of those have been filed as actual lawsuits.

More than 35,000 people signed a petition to recall Amend as coroner, but the measure failed in state Supreme Court.

The only action succeeding against Amend so far is the November ballot proposal approved by 80 percent of county voters to switch from a coroner system to a medical examiner. Amend will still be allowed to finish the remaining two years of his term.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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