A longtime orthopedic surgeon in Mobile surrendered his medical license in August after being accused of having inappropriate relationships with patients and prescribing narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose.
Thomas R. Dempsey has 45 years in medical practice, but that career was upended after his license was abruptly suspended in June amid an investigation by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners (ABME).
An administrative complaint to the ABME contained a number of claims about Dempsey’s general medical practice and prescribing habits along with allegations of inappropriate behavior involving some female patients.
According to the complaint, some patients were known to employees as Dempsey’s “special patients” and on multiple occasions were asked to fully undress so he could massage them with grapeseed oil. They were also said to receive “higher doses of narcotic medications than other patients.”
“When ‘special patients’ arrive at Dempsey’s practice, they are escorted to the only room in the practice with a door that locks,” the complaint reads.
According ABME investigators, one patient said Dempsey “routinely massaged her back, buttocks, inner thighs and vaginal region.” On at least one occasion, he “asked her to remove her underwear” before he proceeded to “insert his fingers into her vagina while his penis was exposed.”
The same patient said the “routine inappropriate touching [was] escalating and becoming more aggressive,” but she and at least one other “special patient” subjected themselves to it “in exchange for prescription narcotics.”
Dempsey surrendered his license voluntarily prior to a scheduled hearing before the board on the veracity of the allegations. His practice, Orthopaedic Quick Care, is now listed online as “permanently closed.”
Dempsey’s attorney has denied all of these allegations, and a public relations strategist hired by the family released the following statement on his behalf.
“The accusations as reported are totally untrue, and I find it outrageous that I am having to respond to them after 40 years of practice and some 20,000 patients,” the statement reads. “I have devoted my life to helping others and to be accused of these things is absolutely unimaginable.”
However, aside from the claims of inappropriate behavior, ABME makes allegations about Dempsey’s prescribing habits that, if true, are similar to those of other doctors who’ve been indicted on federal criminal charges.
While there is no indication Dempsey has ever been formally charged with any crime, the complaint confirms “a government agency” first reported concerns about Dempsey’s medical practice to ABME as part of its investigation into his “overprescribing of controlled substances.”
The board launched its investigation shortly thereafter.
The government agency isn’t named, but federal law enforcement agencies in Southern Alabama have made several cases against local medical professionals for similar conduct.
Citing Alabama’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), the ABME complaint said one “special patient” had been receiving a high dose of narcotics from Dempsey since 2013, and had been prescribed 90 325-milligram oxycodone pills per month for at least the last year.
But the complaint may be a little misleading, as pills containing oxycodone often contain 325-milligrams of acetaminophen, and typically only 5 or 10 milligrams of oxycodone.
According to AMBE, the same database indicated controlled narcotic medications comprised the overwhelming majority of the prescriptions being written at Dempsey’s practice and suggested some might be unnecessary.
“The board’s investigation revealed that Dempsey’s prescriptions are 96.13 percent narcotics and 2.87 percent non-narcotics,” the complaint says. “According to the board’s investigation, Dempsey prescribed narcotics for patients irrespective of the patient’s reason for the office visiting.”
Witnesses cited in the ABME complaint also allege Dempsey would “regularly sign predated prescriptions” for patients who were examined by a physician’s assistant but whom he never actually examined himself.
The practice was also accused of ordering medical tests, drug screens and ultrasound guidance that either weren’t necessary or weren’t used at all.
“A witness told the board that X-rays are ordered every four months for insured patients and every six months for uninsured patients for the sole purpose of collecting more money,” the complaint continues.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration declined to confirm or deny any ongoing investigation, but all three have been involved in recent investigations and prosecutions that have put local physicians behind bars.
Since 2014, five doctors in coastal Alabama have been hit with federal charges for overprescribing narcotic medications or prescribing them with no legitimate medical purpose; four have been convicted and sent to prison.
Fairhope’s Joseph Ndolo was convicted and sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2014 for overprescribing narcotics to patients — including some who said they received those medications in exchange for sexual favors.
Daphne’s Rassan M. Tarabein received five years in prison last year after pleading guilty to a charge he improperly distributed controlled drugs and defrauded health care benefit programs, including Medicaid.
Mobile’s Xiulu Ruan and John Patrick Couch made national headlines after the pair became the first medical professionals in the U.S. convicted on statutes initially created to fight organized crime. Each received more than 20 years in prison.
But Richard Snellgrove beat several federal charges at trial earlier this year after being accused of writing narcotic prescriptions that contributed to the overdose death of former 3 Doors Down guitarist Matthew Roberts.