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March 22, 2009
Settlement resolves wrongful firing claim

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A settlement of nearly $100,000 has been paid to former West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board administrative law judge Tom Gillooly to resolve his wrongful firing claim.

Gillooly was fired without explanation by the board in August, one month after he had raised questions with the West Virginia State Bar about two other board ALJs, Brenda Gould and Denise Spatafore, having inactive status as lawyers.


Board of Risk and Insurance Management Director Chuck Jones confirmed that BRIM paid $93,817.35 in settlement and lost wages to Gillooly.

Gillooly did not want to discuss the settlement, other than to say he was glad to have closure. "I understand it as their recognition that they had a real problem with my case, if it went to trial," he said.

"[BRIM] had the right to settle and they did the negotiation, and we weren't involved," said grievance board chairman Bob Brown. "I personally thought it was outrageous."

Spatafore resigned from the board last month to take a job with the Harrison County Board of Education.

March madness: Some of the most contentious bills over the years have dealt with health-care professions protecting their turf when it comes to authority to perform various procedures. Most recently, there was a tug-of-war among dentists, dental hygienists and dentist assistants over what procedures the latter two could perform without a dentist present.

This year, the fight is between ophthalmologists and optometrists over proposed legislation to allow optometrists (who receive four years of vocational training) to perform certain surgical procedures (primarily, laser surgery) currently restricted to ophthalmologists (who are physicians).

Depending on who you talk to, the disagreement literally got physical last week, following a House Health and Human Resources subcommittee meeting on the legislation (HB2978).

Following the meeting, there was an altercation in the East Wing hallway between Charleston ophthalmologist Dr. Lawrence Minardi and Nelson Robinson, who lobbies for the state Optometric Association.

According to those siding with the ophthalmologists, Robinson shoved Minardi.

(I asked Thom Stevens, who lobbies for several medical associations, if in basketball terms, there was sufficient contact during the incident to draw a foul. He said, yes, for a personal foul, maybe not a technical foul.)

Witnesses siding with the optometrists contend that Robinson merely put his hands up as Minardi got into his face arguing over the bill.

For his part, Robinson said he was offended that, during the subcommittee meeting, Minardi told delegates that optometrists have less medical training than John King, the notorious osteopath who racked up more than 120 malpractice claims during his tenure at Putnam General.

Robinson said he told Minardi that he thought comparing optometrists to King was inappropriate and insulting, which led to the exchange.

Bottom line, though, is that because of the incident, the already controversial issue is too hot for legislators to touch this session, and the bill will most likely be assigned to a legislative interim committee to study over the next year.

Clearly, it's a tough issue, since laser eye surgery is a very lucrative practice, and ophthalmologists don't want others cutting into their business. On the other hand, it's probably not good public policy to let people without adequate training shoot lasers into people's eyes.

In light of last week's column item about Gov. Joe Manchin hitching a ride on friend and campaign supporter Ralph Ballard's private plane to the Big East tournament in New York, a reader raised the issue of the legislation Manchin backed last year to give tax breaks to private aircraft owners.

The law, which taxes aircraft at scrap value rather than as personal property, was touted as a way to encourage corporations to hanger their aircraft at state airports.

"In reality, didn't all this do was give a huge tax break to Ralph Ballard (King Air turbo prop and Beechcraft Premier IA jet), Mike Puskar (Bombardier Global Express), Scott Segal (Learjet), Jimmy Love (Learjet), Tommy Payne, Steve Farmer, Drew Payne, Andrew Jordon, and others?" the reader asked.

Finally, the quote of the week: "Live in sin. You'd be crazy to get married" - Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, during a discussion of overly generous pension benefits given by past legislatures.

Bowman was referring to surviving spouse benefits in the now-closed State Trooper A plan, which equal 75 percent of full pension benefits, payable until the spouse dies or remarries.

Trooper A pensions are quite lucrative, as Bowman noted, with about 90 retirees currently drawing pensions between $60,000 and $90,000 a year.

So Bowman's point is well-taken: What widow in her right mind would give up $40,000 to $67,000 a year just to remarry?

Reach Phil Kabler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 304-348-1220.

Posted By: EdWhite (2:31pm 03-22-2009)
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Your statement that optometrists have 4 years of "vocational training" reveals a lack of research and I would consider it shoddy journalism. The first two years of optometry school are very similar to medical school. At some universities, the two programs take mutual courses in anatomy and other basic medical sciences. The difference is in the third and fourth years. Optometry students study eye and vision issues full time, while medical students participate in rotations in various specialties. After graduation the medical student has a year of internship followed by three years of residency studying ophthalmology.
Optometry recognizes that ophthalmologists should be the ones to perform deep incisional surgery. The intent of this legislation is to allow optometrists to perform minor procedures such as removing skin lesions, along with limited laser treatments. The bill asks only that optometrists be allowed to perform procedures taught by accredited colleges of optometry.