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Medical license of Community Free Clinic founder suspended over prescription practices

April 27, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Dr. Martin W. Gallagher Jr.
File photo

The medical license of celebrated Hagerstown physician and Community Free Clinic founder Dr. Martin W. Gallagher Jr. was suspended April 17 over concerns about his prescription of narcotics to addicts, but the suspension was lifted eight days later, state records show.

The Maryland State Board of Physicians ordered Gallagher’s license suspended based on a review of patient records following two complaints about his prescription practices, but at an April 25 hearing, arguments and documents submitted by Gallagher and his attorney changed the board’s findings, according to documents posted on the Maryland Board of Physicians website.

“The board now concludes there is no imminent danger to public health and safety posed by Dr. Gallagher practicing medicine at this time,” executive director Carole J. Catalfo wrote in the April 26 letter ordering the suspension lifted.

Reached by phone Thursday, Gallagher said he had been hurt by the allegations against him and considered the matter a private one.

“What happened is someone had a vendetta against me, I guess,” Gallagher said, adding he had never been told the identities of those who complained.

Gallagher referred questions about the allegations to his attorney, Conrad W. Varner.

Varner said he had no comment about the matter.

Since June 2009, Gallagher has run an addiction recovery practice in the old school building at 920 W. Washington St.

According to the April 17 order from the Board of Physicians, the investigation began in March 2010 with a complaint from a pharmacist alleging an increase in Gallagher’s Controlled Dangerous Substance prescriptions and questioning their legitimacy. The board received another complaint in April from an anonymous source saying Gallagher was prescribing a large amount of narcotics, including issuing prescriptions to addicts, the order says.

The board subpoenaed medical records from 12 of Gallagher’s patients and had those records reviewed by two board-certified physicians through Permedion, a formal peer review organization, the order says.

The reviewers concurred that Gallagher failed to meet the standard of quality medical care in 10 of the 12 records and that his documentation was inadequate in all 12 cases, the order says.

For example, the reviewers noted that in the case of one man, “Patient 1,” by the patient’s second visit, Gallagher “was prescribing large dosages of OxyContin and oxycodone without having obtained previous medical records regarding Patient 1’s history or narcotic analgesic requirement.”

OxyContin and oxycodone are Schedule II Controlled Dangerous Substances, or CDS, because of their high potential for abuse.

Gallagher then “disregarded (by continuing to prescribe CDS) several indications that Patient 1 was diverting or abusing the prescribed CDS,” the reviewers said. The man reported losing his medication on two occasions, and a pharmacist sent Gallagher a note saying that the man had gone to multiple pharmacies and doctors for CDS and paid cash despite having insurance coverage, the reviewers said.

The letter issued after the hearing did not specify what Gallagher or his attorney said or documented at the hearing to change the board’s findings, and Board of Physicians officials said they could not discuss specifics outside of what was listed in the suspension order and the letter lifting the suspension.

Gallagher, 74, has been honored numerous times since founding the Community Free Clinic in 1990 to serve patients with no health insurance and no other way to afford care.

A Washington D.C. native and former Jesuit priest, he graduated from Georgetown University’s medical school program in 1983 and joined Antietam Family Practice in Hagerstown in 1989.

In 1993, he was honored with a “Washington County’s Most Wonderful Citizens Award” and a governor’s volunteer award.

In 2010, not quite a year after opening his addiction recovery practice, Gallagher was named Outstanding Physician by the Maryland affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Since beginning that practice, Gallagher has not been a provider at the Community Free Clinic, according to executive director Robin E. Roberson.

Gallagher said he plans to reopen his office on Tuesday.

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Editor's note: Due to a reporter’s error, the story on page A1 of Saturday’s Herald-Mail about Dr. Martin W. Gallagher gave an incorrect number of days that Gallagher’s medical license was suspended. His license was suspended for eight days.

The Herald-Mail apologizes for the mistake.

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