Doctor vows to appeal ruling

August 21, 2002 11:00 pm

By JASON ECK

Sonora physician Vernon D. Rickard says he will fight a state Medical Board ruling that concluded he was guilty of gross negligence and sexual misconduct in 1999 and that he be stripped of his medical license next month.

"The decision of the Medical Board is without a true factual basis and it will be thoroughly addressed at the proper time," Rickard said Wednesday night, referring to the appeals process. "Administrative law judges are not perfect and this one made a mistake. I expect ultimately to be fully vindicated."

Rickard's attorney, Marvin Firestone of San Mateo, said Wednesday that his client denies all allegations and will seek to retain his license during appeals.

The Medical Board of California on Tuesday supported a proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Karl S. Engeman to revoke Rickard's license effective Sept. 11. The ruling stems from Rickard's treatment of four patients in 1999 at his Sonora clinic.

Engeman and the Medical Board's Division of Medical Quality ruled Rickard committed gross negligence, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct in his treatment of a 32-year-old woman patient. The judge also ruled Rickard acted with gross negligence when making a psychiatric diagnosis of two other patients and prescribing drugs to two patients after failing to have a reasonable basis for prescribing the drugs.

Rickard, 60, has practiced in Sonora since 1977. According to Medical Board records, his license was revoked but reinstated under specified terms and conditions for five years in 1984. He was the medical director of Sonora Community Hospital's emergency room from 1978 to 1980, the records said.

In the recent case, Firestone said the judge chose to believe testimony from the patients — who he said "distorted the facts" of the case — and overlooked testimony from a psychiatrist and physician testifying on Rickard's behalf who said the physician's care "was within or exceeded" standards in each of the patients' care.

Firestone said the four patients all have a "history of drug abuse." Medical Board records state Rickard attributed the woman's perception of the events to the effects of bipolar disorder, possible ingestion of methamphetamines and the effects of nitroglycerin.