(The Center Square) — While the Georgia Composite Medical Board has addressed some shortcomings uncovered in a November 2020 audit, the agency has not progressed on others, including performing mandatory background checks for general physician licensure applicants.
The agency has “not formally implemented recommended policies, made changes to investigative forms, or begun conducting statutorily required background checks for general physician licensure applicants,” according to a new finding from the Georgia Department of Audits & Accounts. The findings are included in a follow-up to the earlier audit.
“These actions are critical to furthering GCMB’s mission to protect the public and ensuring that unsafe physicians are not allowed to practice medicine,” the audit found.
Last year, an analysis by The Center Square revealed the GCMB routinely dismisses an overwhelming majority of the complaints it receives, but unreliable data made it challenging to say precisely how many cases it closes without taking action. That led to a call from the head of the Medical Association of Georgia urging state lawmakers to properly fund the GCMB, saying the underfunding of the agency doesn’t benefit anyone in the state.
“However, GCMB still lacks a deliberate decision point in the investigation process for determining and documenting whether a violation has occurred, which can inhibit the board’s ability to monitor and ensure consistent disciplinary decisions,” according to the audit.
Additionally, the audit notes state lawmakers have not addressed GCMB’s fee revenue retention recommendations, which may hinder GCMB from further implementing recommendations. However, state lawmakers allocated additional funding for staff positions in the fiscal 2024 budget, which officials said may help address the audit findings.
In the budget, state lawmakers included an additional $431,836 “for personnel to support increased licensure application volume.” In December, the GCMB’s executive director told The Center Square the agency could use “additional resources” to “help in meeting [its] strategic plan’s objectives sooner than we are currently projecting,” but did not request additional funding in line with the director of the state’s Office of Planning and Budget’s guidance asking state agencies to keep their budgets flat for this year’s budget process.
In a response included in the audit, GCMB “noted that the disruption caused by the death of its previous executive director and the subsequent departure of several key management staff greatly hindered the Board’s response to address many of the audit’s initial recommendations.”
One change the GCMB said it made after the initial audit is to allow complainants to contact the board directly for updates about an investigation. Previously, the board only notified complainants when an investigation did not result in disciplinary action.
In 2020, auditors recommended that GCMB establish clear intake policies for assessing complaints and assigning a priority level based on case type, threat level or both. However, the GCMB has not fully acted on the recommendation.
“To better ensure sufficient complaint investigations, GCMB has drafted an intake policy and case review checklist and established timeliness standards, though these initiatives have not been officially implemented and adopted in the policy manual,” the audit concluded. “GCMB noted that staff find it challenging to keep timeliness standards due to the number of open investigations.”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor