Dr. Jones Update: Crime and Punishment in CT

Last week the Connecticut Medical Examining Board (CMEB) voted to discipline Dr. Charles Ray Jones, the 80-year-old pediatrician featured in UNDER OUR SKIN, for technical violations in the way he diagnosed and treated three children suspected of having tick-borne diseases.

The medical board’s final decision, which will be signed in March, specifies that Jones pay a $10,000 fine and finance four years of supervised probation by a licensed pediatrician. This is on top of another $10,000 fine and two years of probation specified in a 2007 ruling, which is currently in appeal.

Jones supporters question the fairness of the proceedings against this pediatric Lyme specialist, who has treated more than 10,000 children with tick-borne diseases over the course of his career. Dr. Jones’ lawyer, Elliott Pollack, believes that the undue harshness of the sentence is related to the heated controversy surrounding his use of long-term antibiotics in treating children with persistent Lyme disease.

The medical board, on the other hand, says that the most recent charges are not related to Lyme disease. The panel chairman, Dr. Richard Bridburg, elaborated: “For us, at least, this issue was perhaps because of the size and busyness of Dr. Jones’ practice, we thought that he takes shortcuts.” (Source: Hartford Courant)

While no one disputes that Dr. Jones took “short cuts,” a review of all CT Physician Disciplinary Actions 2009 rendered by the CT medical board raises questions about fairness of his punishment for these procedural issues.

Last year the medical board punished 43 physicians for serious charges such as substance abuse, sexual misconduct, mental illness, and negligence; not one of these physicians received a fine larger than $5,000. And only one other physician, accused of drug abuse, received a longer supervised probation period than Dr. Jones – though this drug-addict doctor did not receive the additional $20,000 in fines levied on Dr. Jones.

None of Dr. Jones’ treatments resulted in patient harm and his medical decisions were motivated by his desire to begin the treatment of these very sick children as soon as possible. The cases under investigation were:

Case 1: Dr. Jones ordered tick-borne disease blood tests for two siblings he hadn’t physically examined, in advance of an appointment, based on a phone interview with the children’s grandmother.

Case 2: Dr. Jones prescribed antimicrobial drugs over the phone for a child who had tested positive for Babesiosis, a serious tick-borne disease similar to malaria, before a physical exam. This was after interviewing the mother and a referring health care provider, and learning that the child had a history of a tick bite and a physician-observed Lyme rash.

Irrespective of whether the punishment fits the “crime,” the medical board’s six-year investigation into Dr. Jones has sent a headline-grabbing message to every pediatrician in Connecticut – If you treat children with Lyme disease with more than four weeks of antibiotics, you may lose your medical license and be treated as a pariah among your peers. So, with Connecticut Lyme cases skyrocketing up 118% from 2006 to 2008, and the state desperately needing every Lyme specialist it can get, the children of Connecticut are the ones receiving a potential life sentence of suffering, if they acquire one or more tick-borne diseases.

Whether they admit it or not, the Connecticut medical board has turned their hearing rooms into a virtual battlefield for the two standards of care in Lyme disease: the academics at IDSA (with “one-size-fits-all” antibiotic limits) v. the ILADS community-based physicians (who treat until the child is well). With the board’s expert witness list drawing from IDSA-friendly Yale and UConn, it’s no secret where the CT board's loyalties lie. Given that the IDSA Lyme guidelines are under legal scrutiny by the Attorney General Blumenthal of CT, it’s time that the citizens of Connecticut ask their medical board, “Is justice being served here?”

To watch an interview with Dr. Jones, click here.

For the history of the Dr. Jones legal battle, click here.

To read a new statement by Dr. Jones, click here.