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Dr. Turner Defends His Practices : Hearing: His attorney calls allegations of incompetence ‘hokum,’ but the Anaheim physician admits that a hospital imposed restrictions on him.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the seventh week of hearings aimed at revoking his medical license, embattled physician Charles W. Turner Jr. testified in his own defense Friday, and his attorney called the accusations of incompetence “hokum.”

Under cross-examination, however, Turner admitted that his privileges were restricted by Mercy General Hospital in Santa Ana in 1981 for performing unnecessary and inappropriate surgeries, including hysterectomies.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Margaret Lafko also attempted to show that Turner altered medical records and that he did not disclose when he signed on with another hospital that he had been disciplined at Mercy or that he was under investigation by the state medical board.

“All this stuff today was just to discredit Dr. Turner in the eyes of the judge,” said his attorney, Roy O. Moss Jr. “It has nothing to do with the case. We’re talking about ancient history.”

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Turner, 65, was widely criticized after he told The Times Orange County Edition that he hastened the delivery of a newborn baby at his Covenant Birthing Center so he could display her to a televised religious ceremony at the adjacent Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim in the first minutes of Jan. 1, 1990.

The baby was unharmed. Her mother, who is expecting again, testified in Turner’s defense and has said she would like him to deliver her next child. Other witnesses for Turner have included the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, who testified last week.

The Medical Board of California alleges that Turner has been “grossly negligent and incompetent” and has placed at least 20 “mothers and babies at risk for serious injury or death” since January, 1987.

Turner testified Friday that he has delivered about 19,000 babies during his career and recalls eight stillbirths and “maybe half-a-dozen” babies who died within the first 28 days.

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Much of Friday’s testimony, before Administrative Law Judge William F. Byrnes, involved allegations of misconduct while Turner was on staff at Mercy General, now called Coastal Community Hospital, in Santa Ana.

A complaint was filed against him by the Board of Medical Quality Assurance, or BMQA, alleging that he performed three hysterectomies and two other surgeries when there was no medical reason to do so. The patients’ problems could not have been corrected by the surgeries, according to court documents.

A state review panel concluded that there was insufficient proof of “gross negligence or incompetence” but noted that Turner was “at times unorthodox in his choice of surgical procedures” and kept poor records, the documents show.

Moss called the allegations “just a lot of nit-picking things” that had never been substantiated.

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However, Turner testified that the hospital required him to have another physician consult with him on each patient admission, surgery and medical history.

Turner said those restrictions were designed “to keep Medi-Cal patients out of the hospital.”

Lafko showed Turner transcripts of an interview with the BMQA in May, 1982, at which Turner was advised that he might face a criminal prosecution for prescribing drugs improperly.

She then produced his reapplication form to Riverview Hospital in August, 1982, on which he did not include his having been disciplined by Mercy and checked a box indicating that he was not under investigation by the BMQA.

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“You can make a check mark at times and make the wrong check mark,” Turner replied.

Lafko also tried to show that Turner’s birthing center had grossed as much as $1.56 million from the time it opened in September, 1988, until a judge ordered it closed in December.

Turner testified that he did not know the precise sum but that it was less than $1 million. He said he charged patients only what they could pay--which was sometimes nothing.

“He doesn’t turn anybody away,” Moss said. “If he gets paid, he gets paid, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.”

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In the past, Turner has said some of his uninsured pregnant patients had been refused treatment elsewhere. Moss said Friday that Turner’s critics “would rather have (a woman) have a baby in a garage than go to Dr. Turner.”

Moss said he is confident that Turner will ultimately be vindicated.

“In my opinion, we answered all the allegations,” the lawyer said, adding that Turner has no intention of retiring without clearing his name.

“Dr. Turner’s a fighter,” Moss said. “He won the Bronze Star in Korea. He’s not the kind of guy who gives up.”

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