Dr. Richard Wessel’s history of unethical behavior began in 1999. After becoming intoxicated on wine one Friday night, he ventured into a North Carolina hospital to implant a pacemaker in a patient. When he was questioned about his blood alcohol level after the operation, Dr. Wessel agreed to give a blood sample. When hospital officials received the blood sample, they found out it was from one of Wessel’s patients. After the deceit, Wessel’s medical license was suspended for only two months. The suspension gave him some time off, but the unethical behavior continued.
A few years later in 2006, the heart doctor tested positive for cocaine. He also had hydrocodone in his system and some improperly prescribed drugs. Dr. Wessel’s was stripped of his medical license for two years for this. With the kind of salaries he received, these suspensions were like sabbaticals or vacations.
After the two year break, Dr. Wessel was back at it again. In 2014, the New York State medical board gave him a medical license to practice in the state. A review process that investigated prior misconduct ultimately determined that Dr. Wessel was of “good moral character.” Twelve years after his cocaine bust, he would go on to make more than $814,000 a year at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital in St. Lawrence County. Not long thereafter he was caught stealing prescription painkillers from patients. Wessel was recently caught possessing 118 hydrocodone-acetaminophen pills and none were prescribed for him. Now he faces five counts of petit larceny and one count of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Lacking true standards, the New York State medical board has put numerous patients in harm’s way, subjecting them to a thief and criminal drug dealer who has a history of drug abuse and deceit. The department has refused to discuss Wessel’s medical license application and why he so easily waltzed into the state to practice medicine on a criminal record. Even though his suspensions are documented by the North Carolina Medical Board, the New York Medical Board permitted Wessel to do what he does best – get intoxicated, put patients in harm’s way, and violate doctor-patient relationships.
These state review applications are supposed to investigate a doctor’s track record. In the application, Dr. Wessel was required to list any prior suspensions. The state medical board is currently refusing to reveal Dr. Wessel’s application, but must reveal it after May 4th, when a Freedom of Information Act request goes into effect.
The other party that is mum on Dr. Wessel’s criminal conduct is the Canton-Potsdam Hospital, which hired Wessel in 2014. The hospital said it would “not comment on personnel matters” and refuses to say if they conducted a background check on the doctor. The hospital is required by law to check the National Practitioner Data Bank before hiring any doctor. This system checks for malpractice payments, suspensions, and other disciplinary actions.
Why are the authorities so quick to defend Dr. Wessel and conceal their review and oversight processes? Maybe it’s because these entities really don’t have any ethical standard to go by. Their oversight is a façade and they don’t want the public to know that anyone, regardless of their history, can waltz into a medical practice and begin putting patients’ lives at risk.
You’ve heard the phrase on television, “Ask your Doctor.” Wouldn’t it be more prudent to instead question your doctor? Not all doctors are ethical or principled people. Some are spoiled brats. Some are criminal drug users. There should be a zero tolerance policy for doctors who steal prescriptions, abuse cocaine, get drunk on the job, and steal blood from patients to pass drug tests.
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