"Ophthalmology is the queen of all specialties, no question about it," insisted David Chase M.D. in a recent interview in Vermont Business People Magazine. "Everyone secretly wants to be an ophthalmologist," said Chase. "They may not know it at first, but they do eventually. This isn't work at all. It's fun."
As everybody knows, the Vermont Medical Practice Board suspended Dr. Chase's license last week in the wake of revelations he'd been performing cataract surgery on patients who did not need it.
On Friday, officials from the Vermont Attorney General's office, as well as the FBI and the Inspector General, executed a search warrant at Chase's Burlington clinic. The spectrum of potential criminal charges run the gamut from Medicaid/Medicare fraud to aggravated assault.
The matter was brought to light by a whistleblower who sought a second opinion to bolster Dr. Chase's diagnosis of her absolute need for cataract surgery. The second opinion just didn't jibe with Chase's. In fact, according to the complaint, Dr. Chase made a habit of telling patients they didn't even need a second opinion.
One former patient who was stunned by Dr. Chase's diagnosis told Seven Days that when he refused to have the unnecessary surgery, Dr. Chase called him at home. "He was pretty forceful," said local radio personality Joel Najman. "He told me I wouldn't need glasses anymore."
Najman said that despite his wife's urging to do what the doctor ordered, he had second thoughts and refused. In the wake of Chase's license suspension, Najman told us this week he feels "vindicated."
According to documents released by the board, Chase had his own operating room installed at his St. Paul Street clinic. His goal was to perform nine cataract operations per week. Apparently, according to one former staff member, it mattered little whether the patient needed the operation.
"I know he operates unethically," wrote Amy Landry, one of Chase's former technicians. Landry said she and other techs brought their concerns to the clinic's CEO, Brianne Chase, the good doctor's wife.
According to Landry's statement, Mrs. Chase told them, "He's set in his ways."
Since the news of Dr. Chase's license suspension hit, hundreds of former patients have contacted the Medical Practice Board. According to Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire, an additional 80 complaints have been filed against Chase by former patients. This story, folks, will be around for quite awhile.
If the allegations are true, the question is, why would a 67-year-old physician be in the business of operating on the eyes of patients who did not need surgery? Was it for the money?
The Chases are not poor. Far from it. They live in a $500,000-plus mansion on Spear Street in Shelburne. Brianne Chase, born Brianne Eastman, belongs to the family that once owned Burlington's Appletree Point. The Chases still own two lots on the Point. Brianne, in fact, is known for her philanthropy. She's a former chair of the Flynn Board of Trustees and has served on the prestigious Flynn board since 1989.
Dr. Chase told Vermont Business People that his CEO spouse Brianne "makes sure we're all up to snuff on government regulations."
Really? Sounds like she may need a lawyer soon, too.
A Flynn spokesperson informed yours truly Tuesday that Flynn Center Director Andrea Rogers would not be available to speak with us about the Chase case or about Brianne.
Incidentally, Dr. Chase, a graduate of UVM's Medical College, is listed as a faculty member in the current catalogue.
UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera told Seven Days Chase holds what amounts to a "volunteer unsalaried position." He said Chase does not do any classroom teaching at the medical school. Occasionally, said Corredera, medical students have visited him at his downtown clinic.
"Needless to say," said Corredera, "that won't be happening anymore."
DeanWatch 2004 -- Since our favorite presidential hopeful lit up the scoreboard with his whopping first-place finish in second-quarter fundraising, things appeared to quiet down for a couple weeks. So quiet, yours truly dashed over to Saratoga Springs, New York, to catch some real horse racing.
Once again, we were reminded that when it comes to handicapping horse races, our judgment is enormously better with the two-legged variety.
During the lull, the Howard Dean campaign went to the dogs. You see, Rep. Dick Gephardt's campaign made a big deal out of a stupid story about a New Hampshire family that had been visited by both Gephardt and Dean. Apparently Ho-Ho didn't pet the dog, while Gephardt shook the pooch's paw. The Gephardt campaign put out an email stating that Dean hates dogs!
The Dean response was led by the Dean campaign's in-house canine. Kasey is a 4-year-old Highland Terrier belonging to Campaign Manager Joe Trippi. "A very smart dog," says Trippi. So smart, in fact, that Kasey has accepted the official position of Director of Canine Outreach. Honest, we're not making this up. Don't be surprised if Kasey has a guest appearance on the David Letterman Show in her future.
Meanwhile, the "experts" continue to pooh-pooh Ho-Ho's chances. After former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean won the money race with $7.6 million in mostly small contributions, the pundit class sang the same tune from their dog-eared political hymnals. Unable to recognize the world changing before their eyes, they moaned and groaned.
"The real question is whether or not Dean's fundraising will be sustainable," they chanted.
Or: "The real question is whether or not Dean, the Vermont 'liberal,' can possibly expand his support beyond the antiwar left wing of the Democratic Party."
Folks, the real question is, how did this raging epidemic of astigmatism spread undetected through the highest echelons of America's political pundit class? Don't they have opthalmologists in Foggy Bottom?
Was some debilitating agent slipped into the wine at Georgetown cocktail parties to blur their vision?
Or was there a secret pact among pundits to agree on a one-size-fits-all Howard Dean spin? To sound like unified insiders by dissing the lone outsider? To ignore at all cost the outside-the-Beltway evidence that Ho-Ho is the real deal?
Or maybe, they're just not that bright to begin with?
That'll change real soon. Last week's polling provided more evidence that Dean is the real deal. Ho-Ho topped a Field Poll in California. Came in second again to Sen. John Kerry in an American Research New Hampshire poll that showed Kerry dropping, and came in first in New Hampshire in a Boston Herald poll released Sunday.
Incredibly, the headline on the Boston Herald story was "Poll: Kerry has the edge." Beneath it ran a photo of Kerry riding a Harley at an Iowa rally. The lead was "Howard Dean still can't convince New Hampshire voters he can beat President Bush." That was based on one question showing that voters gave Kerry a better chance of beating Bush.
One had to jump all the way down to the ninth paragraph of the Herald story to glean the real news. Howard Dean won the poll! Ho-Ho defeated Boston's hometown favorite 28 percent to 25 percent. Sources say other recent private polling backs up Dean's surge to the top in the Granite State.
Folks, if the Big Stiff with the Ketchup-Heiress Wife can't hold New Hampshire, he's finished.
The American Research Poll released earlier in the week showed Kerry sliding but still on top. "Kerry's Lead in New Hampshire Narrows" was the headline most news outlets used. The Big Stiff had dropped from 28 percent support in June to 25 percent in July.
Meanwhile, Howard Dean gained a point from 18 percent support in June to 19 percent in July.
That didn't stop WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX-TV in Burlington, Vermont, from posting the news on its Web site with the headline, "Dean popularity slips in New Hampshire poll."
Amazing, but not surprising. Fortunately, the Bush-Cheney Reelection Campaign provides a lot of useful information on its Web site: www.georgewbush.com. There, one can easily look up the names of campaign contributors by state.
Under Vermont, one recognizes the names of familiar pro-Bush high rollers such as Richard Tarrant ($2000), CEO of IDX, Jim Pizzagalli ($2000) and Stuart "Red" Martin ($2000), the arch-conservative who owns WCAX-TV.
When WCAX finally got around to reporting the Sunday Boston Herald poll two days later, it made no mention that it was the first time the Vermont candidate came out on top in a New Hampshire poll. Instead, Ch. 3, the station that dubs itself "Vermont's Own," reported Dean and Kerry were "virtually deadlocked."
Obviously, the last thing Red the Right-Winger wants to see is a Vermonter in the White House.
Then he probably won't want to hear about the fantastic online fundraising weekend they had over at http://blog.deanforamerica.com. On Friday the Dean Team started an online fundraising drive designed to counter Vice President Dick Cheney's fundraising event in South Carolina on Monday. They set their goal at $250,000.
By Monday evening, Cheney left South Carolina with $300,000 for his reelection, provided by a couple hundred well-heeled contributors
But over the weekend, Dean's campaign war chest had grown by $508,640. It didn't come from Bush fat cats like WCAX-TV's Red Martin, but rather from 9621 ordinary folks who want to take their country back from the extremist regime that currently leads it. That's an average donation of $52.87.
Students of the American political system will tell you that is nothing less than historic. Hyperbole can't do it justice. Not only is Dean's fundraising sustainable, but, at this rate, the Dean Campaign will neither need nor want federal matching funds and the spending cap that goes with them.
Meanwhile, the Dean Campaign announced on its blog that the half-million bucks raised over the weekend will be used to fund "a top-secret plan." That's got a lot of people wondering.
Whatever it is, it'll definitely be a Trippiesque, "outside-the-box" tactic that will catch everyone's attention.
Douglas Flip-Flop? -- After all the tough talk from Gov. Jim Douglas, it was quite a surprise last week to learn Jimmy D had suddenly decided to call back the legal beagles. The Douglas administration will not mount an appeal of the Water Resources Board's decision on stormwater pollution permits in Chittenden County. The board agreed with the Conservation Law Foundation's argument that Vermont's environmental agency had violated the law by illegally issuing polluter-friendly Watershed Improvement Permits to developers.
In the wake of that decision, the governor bristled. He questioned the board's judgment and continued to slam the environmental watchdog organization that won the case. An appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court looked certain. But last week, Gov. Douglas flip-flopped.
Obviously, his legal advisors informed him an appeal was hopeless. The law is the law and, in this case, the Douglas administration was on the wrong side of the law. Time for Plan B.
Gov. Douglas said last week he'll target the legislature instead of the Supreme Court and try to get the law changed. He said he wants to "get beyond who's wrong and who's right and bring closure and clarity to" the stormwater pollution controversy. Good luck, Jim.
The Guv may be able to get Speaker Walter Freed and his Republican-controlled House to sign on, but can anyone imagine Peter Welch's Democratic Senate backing a scheme to weaken Vermont's environmental laws? In an election year?
Douglas' flip-flop was the icing on the cake for CLF. CLF Lakekeeper Rob Moore modestly acknowledged it was a big victory. Despite the fact that Jimmy D has been trashing CLF since his candidate days, however, we couldn't get the Lakekeeper to gloat.
Mr. Moore did tell us he hopes Gov. Douglas will rethink his legislative strategy. Changing the law by "rolling back deadlines for attaining water quality," said Moore, "is not the solution." CLF's Lakekeeper said he hopes the Guv "has the realization that it's his job to enforce the law and that his environmental agency should provide leadership on Lake Champlain."
Doesn't sound like a radical idea, does it?