Arkansas attorney says trucker clinic needs better supervision

| 8/7/2007

One of four truck stop medical clinics set up for truck drivers has been hamstrung because a state medical board needs better understanding of the clinic’s procedures and medical supervision, the board’s legal counsel told Land Line Tuesday.

The state board pulled medical licenses for two physician assistants who staffed the Professional Drivers Medical Depot clinic in West Memphis, AR. The clinic is one of four founded by John McElligott, a doctor from Tennessee.

Physician Assistant George Gonzalez’s license was up for review at the Arkansas State Medical Board meeting on Aug. 1, though John Davis, the clinic’s other physician assistant, wasn’t scheduled to appear before the board until October.

In a closed door meeting on Aug. 1, the state board told Gonzalez it was revoking his license, and an official later called Davis to tell him his license had been pulled as well.

“In essence, they tried to shut us down,” McElligott told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

William Trice, the state medical board’s legal counsel, told Land Line the board took issue with the West Memphis clinic’s scope of treatment and supervision by its medical director.

Board members had concerns about the practice and need to know more, Trice said.

“You sure wouldn’t want a prescription mill at a truck stop, with 18-wheelers pulling back on the road,” Trice said. “ ‘Gee doc, I’m having a headache – can I have some methadone?’ That would be a little scary.”

Trice also dismissed McElligott’s assertion that his physician assistants were told by board members that the clinic would take patients away from traditional doctor’s offices in the West Memphis area.

Dr. Trent Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board, hasn’t returned phone messages left by Land Line. Pierce has a family practice office in West Memphis.

“I don’t know if you’ve been in any waiting rooms lately but doctors appear to have as much business as they can handle,” Trice said, chuckling.

McElligott’s clinics, called the Professional Drivers Medical Depots, are aimed at providing medical care for drivers whose work schedules make it difficult or impossible to schedule appointments at traditional doctor’s offices.

McElligott told Land Line Magazine Tuesday, Aug. 6, that a committee of Arkansas State Medical Board members didn’t understand his clinic’s mission to serve long-haul truckers.

The clinic serves truck drivers who likely haven’t scheduled weekday appointments or may need to get a prescription for diabetes or heart medicine until they drive home.

“They don’t understand that the drivers have no access,” McElligott said.

Originally, Dr. Roy Denton, medical director for the West Memphis clinic, supervised two physician’s assistants from an office located between five to 10 minutes from the clinic’s truck stop location.

Typically, Trice said, physician assistants work in the same office as the medical director. Otherwise, he said, the board wonders whether the assistant or the physician is more dominant.

“From some of the dialogue I’d heard, I wasn’t sure whether the physician was going to be hiring and utilizing the physician assistants or whether the physician assistant was trying to hire the doctor,” Trice said.

McElligott, however, told Land Line that Denton was hired in February, and the assistant was hired in June.

A lack of communication between McElligott and the board hasn’t helped confusion.

McElligott said he was told by the board that he could not attend the Aug. 1 board meeting because he was not the medical director of the clinic, nor is he licensed to practice in Arkansas. The Tennessee doctor said he’s preparing a letter to send to the board requesting that physician assistants Davis and Gonzalez be re-instated.

Until then, Denton will keep “burning the midnight oil” to keep the West Memphis clinic operating, McElligott said.

“I’ve been a doctor a long time and I have never seen people that needed more health care access than these guys,” McElligott said. “We’re not going to close – we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer