East County : Ruling Puts Doctor Back in Business
Dr. John Welch, who practiced in the East County for almost 25 years until being found guilty of illegally selling prescription drugs without a “good faith examination,” will be able to reopen his practice Monday because a Superior Court judge has lifted a restraining order prohibiting him from seeing patients.
“For all practical purposes, he’s back in business,” said Superior Court Judge Mack P. Lovett, who made the ruling.
Welch’s reprieve may be only temporary, however. It will remain in effect for four months, until the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance (BMQA) decides if the sentence imposed by the administrative law judge who found Welch guilty is just. While that investigation was pending, the court had suspended Welch’s license.
On May 21, Administrative Law Judge Marguerite Geftakys ruled that Welch be placed on probation for three years, fined $2,500, and perform 200 hours of volunteer work, but she allowed him to continue his medical practice. The 19-member BMQA board, based in Sacramento, decided to study transcripts of the case heard by Geftakys in considering whether Welch’s medical license should be revoked.
Welch, 54, a former chief of staff at El Cajon Valley Hospital, was the subject of an investigation by undercover agents of the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. According to documents introduced by Deputy Atty. Gen. Holly Wilkins, the prosecutor in the case, Welch sold bags of Quaaludes, Ritalin and other prescription and illegal drugs to patients and to people he was not treating, and earned a profit from his sales.
In the course of the investigation, Welch sold undercover agents drugs in a clear, unmarked plastic bag for $200 in cash, without first examining them.
In making his ruling, Lovett said it would be unfair to forbid Welch to practice while the BMQA board reviewed his case. Its decision is not expected for at least four months.
“I would be taking this man’s license without giving him his day in court,” Lovett said in reviewing Wilkins’ request for a modified restraining order forbidding him from making prescriptions while the BMQA ruling is pending.
“It would almost be malpractice to practice medicine under the (order proposed by Wilkins),” Lovett said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to second-guess the decision of the administrative law judge.”
Welch was unavailable for comment on the ruling. Vicki Rogers, a receptionist at his office on Mollison Avenue in El Cajon, said she had been ordered “to begin making appointments immediately for Monday.”