UPDATE: Fired Tomah VA chief of staff has WI medical license res - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Fired Tomah VA chief of staff has WI medical license restored

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A Wisconsin administrative law judge has restored the state medical license of Dr. David Houlihan, the former chief of staff at the Tomah VA Medical Center, who was fired in 2015 after an investigation found rampant over-prescription of opiates under his direction resulted in the death of at least one veteran.

Administrative law judge Jennifer Nashold ordered the March 16 summary suspension of Houlihan's license be immediately lifted last Friday, after concluding the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) "has not met its burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the summary suspension of Respondent's license should continue."

The ruling effectively means Houlihan can practice medicine at least until DSPS concludes its formal professional misconduct investigation into his practice at the Tomah VA Medical Center.

Dr. Houlihan was fired from his position in Tomah and lost his ability to practice within the U.S. Veterans Affairs system in late 2015.

Houlihan then launched a private psychiatry practice in La Crosse in February 2016, amid the state investigation into his medical license.
That revelation prompted DSPS to ask the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board to suspend Houlihan's license pending the outcome of that investigation.

At the March 16 hearing on that request, DSPS Attorney Yolanda McGowan laid out the case that - while serving as the Tomah VA chief in 2014 - Dr. Houlihan added a prescription of the opioid medication Suboxone for a 35-year-old patient already taking numerous tranquilizers classified as benzodiazepines, ultimately leading to the patient's death.

McGowan also testified that in examining 27 other cases chosen at random, Dr. Houlihan only met the standard of care for his patients in two of them.

The Medical Exam Board voted to suspend the license, but Houlihan appeal that ruling, asking for what's known as a "show of cause hearing."

That hearing was held in front of Nashold April 4 & 5 and she made her ruling April 8.

"This decision does not determine whether Respondent engaged in unprofessional conduct or negligence or whether his license will ultimately be subject to disciplinary action. It certainly does not make any judgment with respect to whether Respondent is a good doctor or psychiatrist. Rather, it only concludes that the Division has not met its burden of establishing that the emergency suspension of Respondent's license should continue while the case on the merits of the Division's allegations is pending," wrote Nashold. "That determination will be resolved in a separate proceeding which is currently pending before this tribunal. In that other proceeding, Respondent will be afforded fuller due process protections, including the right to discovery, which is not available in this proceeding, and the right to a hearing on the merits of the case."

A DSPS spokesperson released a statement expressing dismay over Nashold's ruling.

"On narrow grounds, the administrative law judge, in her own opinion, determined that the criteria for continuing the suspension of his license was not met. The administrative law judge made no determination as to whether or not Dr. Houlihan violated Wisconsin law," reads part of the DSPS statement.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) is also upset Houlihan's license has been reinstated less than one month after it was originally suspended.

"In early February I expressed serious concerns to Governor Walker about the fact that David Houlihan was still licensed by the state after the VA removed him from federal employment and revoked his clinical privileges," wrote Sen. Baldwin. "I believe he has no business treating our nation's veterans or any citizen in Wisconsin."

The reinstatement of that state medical license comes as Dr. Houlihan presents an appeal of his termination to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Tomah this week.

A call to Dr. Houlihan's attorney has not yet been returned to 27 News.

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