If you suffer from an invisible illness, you’re probably already familiar with the frustration of well-meaning friends or strangers not taking your condition seriously. But when one young man visited the emergency room for a severe anxiety attack, he didn’t expect a doctor to dismiss his illness- let alone verbally and physically abuse him in a hospital bed.
Out of Control Anxiety Attack Sends Student to the Emergency Room…
20-year-old Samuel Bardwell, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, had been prescribed Klonopin (Clonazepam) to help manage his severe anxiety. The benzodiazepine is used to treat seizures and mental illnesses such as panic disorders and anxiety. Being a newly enrolled student, Bardwell had an overwhelming schedule and fell behind on his prescription by a few days.
“He had a prescription waiting for him at the pharmacy but couldn’t pick it up; he’s a student and he works,” Samuel’s father, Donald Bardwell said. “We didn’t know what the consequences of not taking the meds would be.”
WebMD states of Clonazepam: “Do not stop taking this medication without consulting your doctor. Some conditions may become worse when this drug is suddenly stopped. Your dose may need to be gradually decreased. This medication may cause withdrawal reactions, especially if it has been used regularly for a long time or in high doses. In such cases, withdrawal symptoms (such as seizures, mental/mood changes, shaking, stomach/muscle cramps) may occur if you suddenly stop using this medication.”
On June 11, 2018, Samuel suffered from a severe anxiety attack, which caused him to collapse at his school’s basketball practice. His father, Donald, rushed him to the nearest emergency room in El Camino Hospital to receive treatment for the attack.
After waiting several hours to be seen by a doctor, Samuel noticed ER physician, Dr. Beth Keegstra speaking to a security guard in the hallway outside of his room.
“I knew from when she said something to the security guard … I already knew from that point … I said, ‘Please, dad, can you please take out your phone? … I need you to take out your phone now cause I have a feeling something is gonna happen,” Samuel recalls.
Unfortunately, he was right.
… And Out of Control Doctor Sends Him Back Home
Without introducing herself or examining Samuel, Donald recalls Keegstra accusing Samuel of faking his illness to acquire narcotics. He told ABC News that she said, “I know why you people are here, you people who come here for drugs.” To which Donald replied, “What do you mean you people?” and began to record the interaction.
In a video that has now been watched almost 7 million times, Keegstra can be seen mocking Samuel, yanking on his arm, accusing him of lying, and even cursing at him while both Samuel and Donald remain calm and attempt to reason with her to take his condition seriously.
Samuel later told NBC that the pair decided to leave the hospital without a physician’s treatment, fearing Keegstra’s behavior would escalate even further. “I wanted to get out of there because I didn’t know if it was going to escalate to the point where she was going to do something worse than she already did,” he said.
Dan Wood, the chief executive officer of El Camino Hospital, issued a statement apologizing for the Bardwell family’s experience, saying “We have expressed our sincere apologies and are working directly with the patient on this matter. Please know that we take this matter very seriously and the contracted physician involved has been removed from the work schedule, pending further investigation.”
Donald Bardwell is glad that Keegstra is suspended from El Camino Hospital, but says he believes she should lose her practice altogether.
“In my mind, I don’t think she should be practicing medicine at all, because if it’s not a race thing and she treats everybody that way, then that’s a problem,” he told ABC News.
Bardwell said he is considering taking legal action against the hospital.
Not the First Time
Public ratings of Keegstra’s practice have since been flooded by anonymous users commenting on the recorded events. Nevertheless, her ratings on Vitals.com had already averaged 1 of 5 stars in the dates before the incident made headlines.
Interestingly, Keegstra had been disciplined before. In February of 2017, the Complaint Review Committee (“Committee”) of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice required her to complete a professional boundaries course, submit a paper on her learnings, and document her use of the Prescription Monitoring Program after she had been found to prescribe drugs to a patient for a period of 4 months without actually meeting with them and without any official documentation. You can read the Board’s full report here.
Evidently, Keegstra went from playing fast and loose with her prescription pad to berating real patients for “faking” symptoms and failed to understand how to correctly use the Prescription Monitoring Program to help identify and prevent abuse of prescription medications.
Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are more relevant today than ever, in the wake of the opioid addiction crisis. Although the system is imperfect, physicians can use it to document patients’ use of controlled substances. The database allows medical staff to spot red flags for prescription abuse.
Scott Weiner, MD, MPH, an emergency physician and researcher at Tufts Medical Center in Boston has studied the efficacy of PDMPs and notes they do help to improve physician’s accuracy. He compared ER doctors’ educated guesses with information from PDMP databases and found that they changed physicians’ initial analyses about 1 in 10 times. “The clinicians were not that great at determining doctor-shopping behavior,” he said. (ACP Hospitalist).
His study found that a few red flags were usually consistent with inappropriate prescription use: asking for opioid medications by name, multiple visits for the same complaint, a known suspicious history, and reported symptoms out of proportion to an examination. (Annals of Emergency Medicine)
Watch the Full Video
You can watch Donald Bardwell’s full video above. Please be advised that it is distressing and contains language not suitable for all viewers.