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Unnamed NSHC Medical Provider Under Investigation Led by State Medical Board

Nome's Norton Sound Regional Hospital. Photo: Margaret DeMaioribus/KNOM (2016)

The Alaska State Medical Board is in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the opioid prescribing habits of a former Norton Sound Health Corporation employee.

According to an NSHC press release, an unnamed medical provider’s contract with the Corporation was discontinued after an internal investigation was completed by an outside entity. The identity of the outside entity is unknown.

President and CEO of NSHC Angie Gorn would not comment further on the internal investigation or the decision to no longer contract with the provider.

NSHC’s internal investigation came after Alaska State Troopers notified the Corporation that they had begun an “opioid diversion” investigation, involving several patients of a medical provider with the regional hospital. According to the press release, Troopers contacted NSHC in July of last year about this investigation.

When asked why information wasn’t made public on this matter sooner, Gorn responded:

“Our internal investigation was ongoing, and we felt as though we were finally at a point where we could release something to the public, and before doing that, we had to ponder legal and other privacy concerns, and determine what was really in the best interest of Norton Sound and the public.”

According to the press release, the NSHC Board of Directors supported the Administration’s decision to “no longer contract with the provider, thereby ending years of over-prescribing narcotics to a group of NSHC patients.”

Gorn elaborates further on the nature of the issue that has been unearthed by this investigation:

“The problem at hand is that, no matter what you do in a healthcare system, you have to ensure that it’s medically necessary. I think what happened here is the prescribing that was taking place didn’t meet DEA regulations and guidelines for being medically necessary.”

The name of the medical provider related to this investigation has not been released at this time.

Gorn says NSHC has made changes over the last year to prevent further issues with prescription opioids, including implementing an electronic health record of every prescription.

“We first identified that we had a pretty serious problem in February of 2016. And as a result of that, we started to look into what was taking place in our facility… And I want to commend our existing medical staff who worked hard to develop a pain management committee and to work with patients and families to wean them. We took the matter seriously; we have ongoing performance improvement initiatives in place.”

The corporation President and CEO also noted that NSHC was as transparent with this information as it could be, when it could be.

According to the Alaska State Medical Board, their investigation into the medical provider’s prescribing habits is ongoing, and they cannot comment on any details of the investigation. The Medicaid Fraud Unit under the State of Alaska Department of Law is also involved.

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