CINCINNATI -- A jury found former Cincinnati VA chief Barbara Temeck guilty on one count of illegally prescribing pain killers for her former boss' wife, but the charge could still be dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett said he could still dismiss the one guilty count because of a lack of expert testimony asserting Temeck operated beyond the scope of legitimate medical practice in writing prescriptions for her boss' wife. Barrett wants written arguments from both sides, so it could take weeks to see if the conviction will stand or be reversed.
Temeck testified Monday that she didn’t write two of the three prescriptions that led to criminal charges against her, while a third was the result of a medical emergency for the wife of former VA Network Director Jack Hetrick.
“I was doing the right thing for a patient that desperately needed the help,” she said.
Resolute and unflappable during more than two hours of testimony, the former chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center said she realized just a few months ago that she wasn’t involved in two prescriptions identified in a felony indictment against her in May 2017.
The indictment was one of several outcomes of an investigation by WCPO and the Scripps Washington Bureau, which looked into dozens of allegations by whistleblowers at the Cincinnati VA.
The 2016 report led to Jack Hetrick’s retirement and the November 2017 firing of Dr. Temeck. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also reshuffled its Cincinnati management team to include more military veterans and spent $1 million on new equipment to sterilize surgical equipment.
Dr. Temeck spent most of the last two years fighting administrative actions taken against her within the VA, arguing she was a whistleblower fighting against waste and abuse by the University of Cincinnati and its doctors, who staff many of the Cincinnati VA’s medical departments. The VA rejected her whistleblower complaints last February, saying she had the authority to correct the problems she raised after her 2016 demotion.
Because she was dealing with her administrative fight, Dr. Temeck testified that she never analyzed the prescriptions involved in her criminal case until her attorney showed her pharmacy receipts for the drugs as part of her trial preparation a few months ago. Those receipts listed old addresses and called for 50 and 100 pills, not the multiples of 30 that she typically prescribes. In addition, a May 2013 prescription called for the drug Norco, a brand name for hydrocodone and acetaminophen, which she claims to have never prescribed.
“I’m frankly not even familiar with what Norco is,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware of the term.”
Dr. Temeck admitted that she wrote a prescription for a generic form of Valium in November 2013. She said Mrs. Hetrick was suffering from muscle spasms in “what I would characterize as an anxiety and panic attack.”
Prosecutors allege Dr. Temeck violated the terms of her DEA registration, which is tied to her VA practice only. Kathleen Hetrick is not a veteran and hasn’t worked for the VA since 1999, according to trial testimony. But Dr. Temeck told the jury that Hetrick retired on disability and received workers compensation benefits from a workplace injury at the VA. So, in her view, the care she provided to Hetrick was “under the VA umbrella.” She also testified that she wasn’t aware of prescribing restrictions tied to her DEA registration.
During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Healey pressed Dr. Temeck on the panic attack that led to a prescription in November 2013. He established with a series of questions that Hetrick wasn’t hospitalized, didn’t call 911 and didn’t fill the prescription for nearly four weeks after it was written.
“This wasn’t an emergency, was it?” he asked.
“It was a definite emergency,” Dr. Temeck firmly responded. “I validated that not only by my discussion with her but I did a physical examination and assessment in her home.”