CINCINNATI - When Dr. Barbara Temeck was first questioned about prescribing pain pills for her former boss' wife, she couldn’t recall details but didn’t deny writing prescriptions for Kathleen Hetrick.
She also blamed her boss, former VA Network Director Jack Hetrick.
“I always felt a lot of pressure from Mr. Hetrick to help him in regard to taking care of his wife,” Dr. Temeck told investigators from the VA’s Office of Inspector General in February 2016. “He has a lot of authority in the VA … I’m a peon.”
The recorded interview was played for a federal jury in Dr. Temeck’s felony drug trial on Friday. The Cincinnati VA Medical Center’s former chief of staff is accused of illegally writing two prescriptions for a generic form of Valium and one for Hydrocodone.
The trial will resume this morning with OIG investigator Todd Springer on the stand. Springer interviewed Dr. Temeck on the same day that WCPO and the Scripps Washington Bureau first published details about the prescriptions as part of a broad investigation into quality of care and morale problems at the Cincinnati VA.
The investigation led to the early retirement of Jack Hetrick and the demotion, suspension and firing of Dr. Temeck.
In the roughly 90-minute interview, Dr. Temeck explained that she became friends with the Hetricks in 2001, when they were neighbors in VA-owned housing at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago.
Dr. Temeck said Kathleen Hetrick developed serious neck problems after a bookshelf fell on her at work. That led to an unsuccessful surgery and years of chronic pain problems that continued as Jack Hetrick rose through the VA’s management ranks in the early 2000s and Dr. Temeck moved from Chicago to St. Louis, South Carolina and – starting in July 2013 – Cincinnati.
Even after they stopped working together, Dr. Temeck said the Hetricks periodically called for medical help. For example, she said Jack Hetrick asked her to renew his wife’s Valium prescription via email in 2008.
Dr. Temeck said she was working in St. Louis in December 2012 when an Ohio prescription database documented that she authorized 50 pills of Diazepam for Mrs. Hetrick. She said she was working at the Dorn VA in Columbia, South Carolina, when a second prescription was ordered in May 2013 for 100 tablets of Norco, a generic version of Vicodin that includes the opioid Hydrocodone and acetaminophen.
Dr. Temeck said she didn’t examine Kathleen Hetrick before either prescription and didn’t know whether other doctors were prescribing for her friend. She also said she didn’t recall the specifics of what led to each prescription but insisted she didn’t write them on VA time.
“I always felt I was in a very difficult position,” she said. “I would prefer to not have been involved but I was trying to help her.”
During cross examination, Defense Attorney Ben Dusing pressed the OIG investigator on details involving two prescriptions that were called in to pharmacies before Dr. Temeck relocated to Cincinnati. Notes taken by the pharmacies included handwritten addresses for the Hines VA in Chicago – even though Temeck hadn’t worked there for years. He also got Springer to concede that it’s possible to use a doctor’s DEA registration number to call in a prescription without a doctor’s knowledge.
Dusing hinted in his opening statement that Dr. Temeck might deny writing two of the three prescriptions that led to criminal charges against her. It’s still not clear whether Dr. Temeck will testify in her own defense.
In prior testimony, prosecutors established that Dr. Temeck had a DEA registration that allowed controlled substances to be prescribed for her VA practice only. A former VA administrator testified that physicians are supposed to write prescriptions for veterans only but there are exceptions, including humanitarian reasons, emergency situations and cases in which work-related illness or injuries require urgent attention.