FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Dozens of Arkansas medical professionals use a similar treatment program to former VA pathologist Dr. Robert Levy.
Dr. Todd Clements has been in practice for 20 years. Now in Jonesboro, a wall in his office is covered with medical degrees. But he started in Texas helping addicts. His patients did not know Clements needed the help just as much.
“I was sending people to treatment while I was an addict myself,” Clements said.
It started with alcohol and then progressed to pills.
“As a doctor, I could go to other doctors and get pills, I was getting pills from samples. They would bring samples,” he said.
He eventually got busted for prescription fraud. All those degrees on the wall came down.
“All those hours of studying, and in the hospital and here I’ve lost my license. In Texas, I had to surrender my license. I remember thinking, wow, was that all wasted?” Clements said.
It was not wasted though. After taking a few years off, he moved to Arkansas and found the Arkansas Medical Foundation.
“Help them secure treatment if necessary and provide ongoing monitoring of a physician after they are through with treatment to ensure their continued safety to practice,” AMF Medical Director Bradley Diner said.
It helps rehabilitate addicted doctors so they can return to practice. That way, all of that education does not go to waste.
“We already have a deficit in the number of physicians in the state of Arkansas and certainly in underserved areas,” Diner said.
Doctors go through a treatment program and sign a contract with the AMF so they can keep their medical license as long as they stay clean. Clements was constantly drug tested. He even took polygraph tests.
Most states have these programs. Former VA pathologist Dr. Robert Levy went through a similar one, but in Mississippi, because that is where his medical license came from. So Mississippi officials gave Levy a monitoring contract and advocated for him to return to work 7 months after his original suspension.
The AMF estimates at least 10% of physicians have substance abuse issues. Since 2010, the Arkansas Medical Board has disciplined more than 80 medical professionals for substance abuse issues. But the AMF says its program has a 90% success rate thanks to long-term monitoring.
“That maintains that sobriety and maintains that success when you’re doing regular drug screenings, and the physician is also going to 12 step meetings and you’re individually in group therapy all at the same time,” Diner said.
Clements returned to practice after three years off and now uses his story to help his patients.
“I find that they have your respect and they’ll want to say, well how did you get sober? What did you do? And I say, this is what you got to do and you got to keep doing it,” he said.
He still attends meetings and shares his story to hold himself accountable.
“At the time, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Now, I look back and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me because I’ve been clean and sober over eight years,” Clements said.
Since Levy’s medical license was through Mississippi, his name does not appear on that list of Arkansas medical professionals disciplined by the state medical board.