EXCLUSIVE: Doctor accused of running a medical marijuana mill

January 10, 2010

BY KAREN VELIE

Former co-workers are accusing Dr. Atsuko Rees, a physician at HealthWorks in San Luis Obispo until July 2009, of writing medical marijuana recommendations for almost anyone who asked, while not claiming the bulk of payments for the visits as income.

The allegations come as medical officials across the country are asking if a small number of doctors are responsible for authorizing the vast majority of medical marijuana cards — possibly abusing a law meant to help patients with chronic health problems. These few doctors, many known for spending five to ten minutes with patients before diagnosing them with a chronic illness, are said to be practicing sub-standard medical care as they rake in between $150 to $250 for each diagnosis.

HealthWorks employees allege that Dr. Rees, a former co-owner of HealthWorks who now practices at Rees Family Medical on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, would see as many as 60 to 70 patients on so-called “Marijuana Fridays” when she practiced at HealthWorks. Both Dr. Rees and Mary Eanes, a physician’s assistant Dr. Rees continues to work with, would approve patients’ medical marijuana status. However, to comply with California law, Dr. Rees would sign off on patients as if she had seen each patient personally, former co-workers said.

Neither Dr. Rees nor Eanes returned numerous phone calls asking for comment. However, a call to their office confirmed the group is continuing to issue medical marijuana cards.

Even though Dr. Rees saw patients of all ages at HealthWorks, the bulk of her marijuana card clients fell between the ages of 15 and 25, with a large number visiting the clinic on, or within days of, their 18th birthday.

Medical marijuana patients under age 18 must have a parent present when seeing a doctor or visiting a dispensary, according to California law. Nevertheless, Dr. Rees gave a medical marijuana recommendation to a 15-year-old Nipomo boy who walked into the clinic complaining of headaches. He provided a note from his mother that said he could seek medical care without an accompanying parent.

Dr. Rees started writing cannabis recommendations in 2007 and since then has written more than 30,000 medical marijuana approvals for everything from sleeping problems to anxiety.

Cynthia Scott, a former business partner of Dr. Rees at HealthWorks, said that shortly after Dr. Rees began advertising for patients seeking medical marijuana, they began seeing scores of cannabis-seeking patients. Scott said many patients would come to the counter requesting to see the “marijuana doctor.”

Scott also said that when the partners began battling over the clinic’s growing reputation as a marijuana prescription mill, Dr. Rees told Scott not to worry because she was “keeping it all off the books.” Nevertheless, the partners’ disagreements escalated until Dr. Rees agreed to leave HealthWorks.

“She would put the money in her lab coat,” Scott said. “She would have pockets full of cash.”

While at HealthWorks, Dr. Rees also saw patients for medical problems not related to marijuana. A former employee, who was responsible for billing insurance companies, said Dr. Rees allegedly would pad the bills by reporting she had seen patients for at least 25 minutes, when in reality she had spent less than 10 minutes examining the client.

The illegal act of false billing, referred to as up-coding, can cause the insurance reimbursement for a medical visit to jump from $56 to $83.

HealthWorks’ current physician, Dr. Donella Jenkins, said that although Dr. Rees left HealthWorks some six months ago, the business continues to turn away multiple patients who are asking to see the “marijuana doctor.”

Approximately a year ago, officials at the Grizzly Academy were considering hiring Dr. Rees to help provide medical care for their students.

“I learned from nurses at HealthWorks that Dr. Rees was using the office to sell marijuana prescriptions,” said Dr. George Ward, a local physician who worked with students at the Grizzly Academy. “I said ‘she is not the doctor we want around our youth.’”


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Typoqueen

What a witch hunt. It sounds as if most of you including the doc in this ‘article’ don’t have a clue. First mistake, these docs don’t write ‘prescriptions’ for MJ they write ‘recomendations’. I have a tough time getting to sleep, its a terrible. I’m lucky to get 3 hours a night. It takes only a few minutes with any doc that I’ve seen for them to write me a prescription for Ambian or some other strong sleeping pills. I won’t take them they are dangerous. So why are you all on this witch hunt for something that is so much safer than than sleeping pills or opiates? The doc doesn’t need to spend a lot of time with the patient as this is such a benign cure or aid that helps so many people. I know someone that goes to this doc and she spent time with him to find out why he felt that he needed it. How long should it take? My gosh with all the problems in the world this is called in depth reporting, you can do better than this….or maybe you can’t.


Paperboys

So what’s the difference between this doc and one who hands out prescription painkillers like Halloween candy? The difference is that pot is not physically addictive like prescription pain meds.

Frankly, I’m shocked that any doctor would let someone like Cindy, who is not a relative of her patient, into the exam room with them in the first place. Clearly, she does not respect the privacy of the person she refers to.

The only thing wrong with this is the prices she’s charging for the prescriptions. Is the $150-$250 on top of the $100 office visit fee?

”While at HealthWorks, Dr. Rees also saw patients for medical problems not related to marijuana. A former employee, who was responsible for billing insurance companies, said Dr. Rees allegedly would pad the bills by reporting she had seen patients for at least 25 minutes, when in reality she had spent less than 10 minutes examining the client.” Sorry, but using “allegedly” in this instance does not CYA. This is libel on its face and unless the unnamed source is willing to back this up in court, CCN is potentially in big trouble.


inthemiddle

Unfortunately, one of those individuals named in this article also gave someone a prescription for phentinol (sp) with little to no office time.


SLOthinker

Karen, thanks for taking this on. Abuse like this endangers the needs of those who really need it.


Cindy

Agreed. I am all for medical marijuana. Dr’s like Rees put the entire program at risk.


Cindy

I met this doctor and witnessed her write a prescription first hand. I rented my home to an old friend back in 2007 while I was working out of town. He told me he wanted to grow marijuana on my back deck and I said it was OK with me as long as he kept it legal. Although he was new to the area he had no trouble getting the name of Dr Rees. I went with him to the appointment because I wanted to ask her about her experience regarding local MM laws. She charged him $150.00 cash and listened to his heart and looked in his mouth (that was it)! He had no documentation of any prior medical problems and I didn’t think he would be able to get the prescription without proof of a legitimate aliment, boy was I wrong. He then asked her about how he could be a legal caregiver and she handed him forms and said ” just have anyone you grow for fill this out and designate you as their caregiver, of course they will also need a prescription. ” When I returned home 6 months later there was pot all over the place. He had sent a bunch of friends there and got them to make him the caregiver! I made him move out as soon as his harvest was over, what a nightmare.


humptidumpti

Once again I would admonish you if you were there and saw something you KNOW to be illegal go to the authorities. If you truly believe there is someone illegal or wrong going on speak up to THEM or forever hold your peace. You are just as guilty of wrong doing if you see a law being broken and don’t report it. It’s called obstruction of justice.


rukidding

I was recommended to this “doctor” for a pre surgery physical. After the physical I went back for a visit and was told that the doctor had moved on with no explanation of where she went. This story only confirms my belief of this “doctor”. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck then it usually is a QUACK.


malovato

This whole “medical” marijuana idea is such baloney and needs to be discontinued. My nephews 20 year old best friend received a marijuana medical card for some bogus ailment. He admits to me with no shame, he sells half the pot he buys from the dispensary to his buddies to break even on money he paid for the weed and smokes the rest. I’m sure he’s not the only guy pulling this scam.


inthemiddle

My 20 year old son went to get one and all he had to do was show his scar on his knee from when he had had ACL surgery in high school. That scar has not stopped him from doing one other thing he wants to do physically.


cheseburger

Rather have him selling pounds, nephews at 20 sometimes make things up, and yes I would yank his card if I were his doctor.


backseat_driver

I sure hope they can prove their accusations because if not I see a lawsuit for libel coming their way.


inthemiddle

I would be happy to help with this. I KNOW this is being done by these two medical professionals, and others as well.


asthecrowphlies

how about we just decriminalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol . no , i do not drink or use marijuana or any other drugs .


inthemiddle

The problem with this is that tax payers are already spending millions of dollars supporting people’s addictions (alcoholism and tobacco use) either medically or legally and in some cases due to disabilities due to these addictions. I am considered to be liberal but I don’t want tax money going to pay for people’s addictions especially because it has become legal for them to make poor choices. There is absolutely no accountability for choice making in these cases


asthecrowphlies

how about the billions we spend to on enforcement , courts , and incarceration . i also admit to an addiction , i know it is really bad for me i know it will kill me and i try to push on to my friends and strangers all the time . but because it is legal i do not have to go to some seedy place to by it

from some seedy person , not knowing what other chemicals are in it or if they do not have what i want try to push some other thing on me like cocaine / meth / speed . my addiction , BBQ’d pork and beef .


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