Massachusetts Medical Society: Introducing PHS Core Services and Team

Introducing PHS Core Services and Team

By Steven Adelman, M.D.
PHS Director

Across the country, some 47 states have a physician health program (PHP) of one sort or another. PHPs were envisioned as safe havens for physicians — a place to go for help before the ravages of addiction or major mental illness impair the ability to practice medicine in ways that would lead to disciplinary actions by regulatory boards. This remains an important function of all PHPs, including Physician Health Services (PHS).

Over the years, close to 3,000 physicians and medical students have received services at PHS. Recently, about 350 individual clients have been involved with the program over the course of each year. About half enroll in the monitoring program; others come for consultative services and assessments that do not involve long-term monitoring.

Three Long-Term Monitoring Programs

PHS has three long-term monitoring programs: Substance Use Monitoring, Behavioral Health Monitoring, and Occupational Health Monitoring.

When a physician or medical student is monitored by PHS, he or she agrees to conform to a structured remediation program that lasts between one and three years. When monitoring by PHS is required by an entity like the Board of Registration in Medicine, the Drug Enforcement Administration, or a health plan, it may last longer than three years.

Monitoring typically involves active treatment (addiction counseling, psychotherapy, psychiatric intervention, or coaching); participation in physician self-help groups; monthly meetings with PHS staff members; and the involvement of two individuals at work: a chief of service and peer monitor. Substance use monitoring involves a state-of-the-art drug-testing program.

Over the years, we have found that physicians and students with serious challenges are often able to stabilize, recover, and thrive during the course of PHS monitoring. Documentation of compliance with and completion of monitoring can be extremely beneficial to physicians whose challenges culminated in “the wrong kind of attention.”

Assessing, assisting, and monitoring physicians and students with complex and consequential health challenges all require a great deal of thoroughness and attention to detail. Some individual cases require hundreds of hours of staff time over the course of a year. PHS’s professional and administrative staff members collaborate effectively in an effort to maximize our ability to help each and every client.

A full-time director and seven other part-time professionals contribute to the program in a variety of mission-critical ways. They include the following:

  • Wendy Cohen, M.D. — PHS Evaluation Director
  • Melissa Freeman, L.M.H.C. — Monitoring Associate
  • Wayne Gavryck, M.D. — Medical Review Officer and PHS Associate Director (Western MA)
  • Debra Grossbaum, J.D. — General Counsel
  • Harvey Kowaloff, M.D. — PHS Associate Director (Central MA)
  • Jacqueline Starer, M.D. — PHS Monitoring Director
  • Juliana Szakacs, M.D. — PHS Associate Director (Boston)

In addition to the general counsel and the professionals with clinical backgrounds, we also employ a dedicated office staff that works closely with the professionals and PHS’s clients to maintain very high standards in the following domains: the PHS support group program, education and outreach services, assessment services, monitoring, compliance, drug testing, and time-sensitive documentation that may be of great medicolegal import.

In September 2016, Dr. Lynn Hankes, a founding father and national leader of the physician health movement, performed a four-day program review of PHS. Dr. Hankes concluded, “PHS’s overall operation unequivocally qualifies it as a top-tier outstanding highly functioning program. It demonstrates excellence throughout its entire spectrum of activity.”

Our work depends on doing a superlative job helping each and every distressed physician. We are inspired by this “vote of confidence” to continue our quest to do everything possible to deliver compassionate, thorough, and timely assistance to the growing number of physicians and medical students who call upon us to help them during a time of need.

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