When I first moved to Indiana to be with my husband, I worked at Health 1st, a chiropractic and physical therapy clinic. I went from a simple front desk girl to being a front office manager for all four of our offices. I quit that job after spending months waiting for my annual review and a raise I deserved for all the extra work I had taken on and for all I had done for the offices. As much as I loved that job, I couldn’t continue to devalue myself by letting the compensation issue slide while I put my heart and soul into my work. Unfortunately, in the year after my departure, my office shut down completely and took others with it. There is currently only one location open out of the previous four.
In addition to the chiropractors and massage therapists (MTs) we had on staff, we also had a physician and physician’s assistant (PA). In order to bill for certain services, the physician needed to be present and/or sign off on treatment that the MTs performed and the PA subscribed. Dr. William Terpstra was our physician during my time at Health 1st. He would be in my office on Tuesdays or other days when the PA was working at the hospital, and would sign off on patient records for those seen on Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays. He was a nice guy, as was his daughter who was an MT prior to getting pregnant and married. There was a big difference between Dr. Terpstra and our PA. One day without question, he prescribed me vicodin for stomach pain when I was hurting so badly that I felt I had no other option but an exam. Our PA on the other hand would always ask numerous questions and attempt to find a solution that did not involve pain killers and/or muscle relaxers. Dr. Terpstra would prescribe pain pills to a patient on their very first office visit, while our PA would only do so after checking their prescription history and ensuring there was truly no other option available. Since aches and pains are easy things to fake, Dr. Terpstra made himself a perfect doctor for a junkie or a dealer; he never seemed reluctant to prescribe a narcotic. This morning, I heard a news report that immediately caught my attention by dropping Dr. Terpstra’s name. Right now, the good doctor is in jail and facing 24 felony counts over prescribing narcotics and other controlled substances in excessive amounts to patients who were at risk of becoming dependent or already dependent. He is among eight others from the Kokomo practice that are facing charges; three other doctors, three PAs, a nurse and an office manager are all in hot water due to the growing number of deaths by overdose that are a direct result of their careless prescribing habits. According to reports, this practice was the place to go if you wanted narcotics; patients would pay their bill prior to getting their prescription rather than seeing the doctor and paying after services were rendered. One patient stated that the physicians were aware that she was not taking the drugs she was prescribed (which is a clear sign she was selling them or giving them away to addicts) but they continued for seven weeks to prescribe her Lortab and Adderall for a fee of slightly over $300. One of the twenty-seven deceased victims, an 81 year old man, was prescribed 420 Oxycontin pills all at once. Reports state the physicians would sign blank prescription forms and allow the PAs or other office staff to fill in the information for the narcotic to be prescribed, something which is obviously against federal law. All this, not from a pain management clinic, but from a family practice. The 24 felony counts that Dr. Terpstra faces “include eight counts of dealing in a narcotic drug, all Class B felonies, six counts of dealing in a schedule 3 controlled substance, Class B felonies, seven counts of Class C felony dealing in a schedule 4 controlled substance and three counts of conspiracy to commit dealing in a narcotic drug and controlled substances.” He received more charges than anyone else in the case. He has already signed an agreement to cease distributing narcotic prescriptions and today, he will find out if his medical license will be suspended along with fellow doctors Don and Marilyn Wagoner. He is being held with a bond of $1,000,000, cash only. Knowing his daughter, I can imagine what a horrible wreck she is right now to know her father is in jail and has probably ruined his chances of ever practicing medicine again. 27 people are dead, and Dr. Terpstra had a hand in taking some of those lives. This story hits me in a strange way because I worked with Dr. Terpstra for nearly two and a half years. He’s a gentle, quiet man who loves his family and was ecstatic about being a grandpa. He worked hard and was always available when we needed assistance, for patient emergencies, or if we had a silly question that we knew he could answer. He was never rude, never raised his voice and never offended anyone. He was quick and efficient, working well with the staff to get patients in and out of exams in a timely manner. I had always assumed his relaxed attitude toward prescriptions came from experience and the ability to distinguish addicts from genuine pain patients. Thinking back, it’s obvious that his arrest should not be a surprise to me. The relaxed demeanor was actually carelessness. His dedicated patients were actually addicts. I don’t think Dr. Terpstra meant to hurt anyone; it’s hard for me to think that the person I worked with could be that cold hearted. With 27 people dead, the motive does not matter and I don’t see good things in the doctor’s future. He will likely lose his license today and be found guilty on most of the felony counts raised against him. His life is ruined, much like the lives of the patients he served. My heart goes out to his family, especially his daughter who was always a joy to work with and his grand kids who simply adored their grandpa to pieces. I’m a tad grateful that none of this happened while he was working for my former office, as I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be caught up in that mess and to have patients needlessly die under my watch. And while I don’t think I should, I do find myself feeling a bit bad for the doctor himself. I don’t know what went wrong in his life and career to make him stop caring and stop paying attention, but I feel bad that it happened and that this is the result. At least now, he’s in a place where he cannot cause anymore harm.