Longtime Dolores doctor retires amid state inquiry
State medical board raised concerns about prescriptions
A longtime Dolores doctor has closed his office and retired amid a review by the Colorado Medical Board that alleged improper prescription of painkillers including morphine and methadone, according to case documents.
A Colorado Medical Board inquiry expressed concerns in December about Dr. Allan Scott Burnside’s prescription of opioid drugs. Burnside has denied all allegations, and the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies stated that there has been no final action in the case.
A Colorado Medical Board agreement stated that there has been no disciplinary action, finding of unprofessional conduct or admission of unprofessional conduct.
Burnside announced his retirement in a letter to The Journal dated Dec. 27.
“After thirty years of medical practice, twenty-three in Dolores, it is with mixed emotion and a heavy heart that I must inform you of my decision to retire from the practice of medicine,” Burnside wrote.
The office officially closed on Dec. 16, and patients have been discharged. Burnside purchased the Dolores Medical Center at 507 Central Ave. in 1994 from Dr. Ed Merritt, who first opened the practice in 1948.
He was the medical director for The Valley Inn nursing home in Mancos for about 20 years. He was also the medical director for Vista Grande Inn nursing home in Cortez, Cottonwood Inn Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center in Durango, and Rio Grande Inn nursing home in La Jara, Colorado.
He ended his medical privileges at Southwest Memorial Hospital in November 2011.
The nursing home facilities are managed by C&G Health Care Management, based in Cortez. None of the allegations involved patients at the nursing homes.
President Joyce Humiston said a local doctor group that includes Dr. James Heyl and Dr. Karla Demby has taken over duties as interim medical directors for the nursing home facilities while a permanent director is sought.
The medical board’s inquiryOn Dec. 8, an inquiry panel of the Colorado Medical Board released a review of information relating to Burnside’s prescription practices for six patients, according to public records released by the medical board, which oversees physicians’ licenses. No dates of the alleged violations or patient names were released.On Dec. 13, Burnside entered into an interim nondisciplinary agreement with the Colorado Medical Board to cease his practice. The agreement banned him from practicing as a physician while his case was being evaluated.Burnside denied all allegations that he had violated the Medical Practice Act, according to case documents.
“They pored through 100 years worth of patient records, and they came up with a couple of things they were unhappy about and did not let me respond to them,” he told The Journal in a 45-minute interview on Wednesday, Jan. 4. “I did not expect that they would be so harsh in their findings.”
“My way of practice is to get a problem stabilized, reduce the suffering, then start backing off and find the minimum medication,” he said. “The irony is that I’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds off narcotics, to stop smoking to stop drinking, but they did not mention them.”
According to case documents, the inquiry panel of the Colorado Medical Board expressed concern with allegations about Burnside’s prescription practices. The allegations claimed that Burnside:
“Initiated methadone therapy at too high of a starting dose (and) continued to prescribe methadone after patients demonstrated aberrant behaviors.”“Prescribed morphine in high doses and in combination with two sedatives, but failed to address or document the risks to the patient.”Prescribed “medications in combinations that were dangerous or otherwise created a potential for abuse.” Provided prescriptions to patients who had moved out of the area and were no longer seen in his office.The Interim Cessation of Practice agreement states that there has been no disciplinary action, finding of unprofessional conduct or any admission of unprofessional conduct.
“There have been no final determinations regarding (Burnside’s) professional competence or professional conduct,” according to the agreement.
Lee Rasizer, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, stated that there has been no final action related to the case.
‘I was compassionate’In his interview with The Journal, Burnside said he could have explained his position on each allegation but the medical board didn’t give him the chance.
The board reviewed records of six longtime patients whom he had treated for a combined 100 years.
Responding to the allegation that he improperly refilled prescriptions, Burnside told The Journal that he once strayed from a rule that prescriptions cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.
“I was compassionate and did not follow the rule word for word because the patient had lost their medication,” he said.
Responding to the allegation that he prescribed methadone at too high of a dose, Burnside said it was taken out of context.
“The patient came to me on OxyContin, and I do not like that medication, so I replaced the chronic pain medication with methadone,” he said. “I prescribed less than 25 percent of what the conversion chart recommended, but (the medical board) thought it was too high. It was a judgment call.”
Burnside also said that he had prescribed drugs to patients who had moved from the area, but again said that he did it out of compassion.
“The patient had moved but could not find another doctor,” he said. “Once they found another doctor, I stopped the prescriptions. I did that, and I don’t think it was wrong. There needs to be compassion so people do not suffer.”
He rebutted the allegation that he prescribed a dangerous combination of drugs.
“They did not say I did not know what I was doing, just that there are dangerous combinations. That is why there are doctors, because we understand prescribing safe doses,” he said.
Burnside said his career calling was to take on patients who fall through the cracks, such as the elderly or mentally or behaviorally challenged. The average age of his patients was 76, he said, adding that he believes the medical board reviewed “the most difficult patients I had with a multitude of medical issues.”
The clinic has laid off seven employees, he said, and his patients must find a new doctor.