A Richland doctor is being disciplined by the state for allegedly having an affair with a patient and failing to get her appropriate psychiatric care.
Dr. Geoffrey S. Ames has been charged with unprofessional conduct by the Washington state Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission.
Ames “employed and made business plans with the patient, didn’t properly treat the patient, impeded the patient’s opportunity to receive appropriate care elsewhere, and caused unreasonable harm to the patient,” according to a department news release.
He also allegedly did not cooperate with the commission’s investigation into the affair, and intentionally misrepresented facts about the situation.
Ames denied having sex with the patient in a June 2013 letter to the Department of Health, and said she was his “friend and employee only.”
The woman, who is not named in the department’s statement of charges, killed herself in early 2013. Their romantic and sexual relationship had ended the previous year and Ames began providing medical care to her again in his office.
The day before and day of her suicide, the woman sent text messages to Ames indicating she was experiencing “acute depression” and was “so tired of this ride.”
Her last text to Ames used their pet names and told the doctor to “heal all those waiting to see you.”
Commission Executive Director Melanie de Leon noted in the charging statement that Ames did not act with appropriate urgency to the woman’s psychiatric crisis by delaying his response.
Hours after the first text message, Ames replied: “Are you less depressed now?” She answered that she was still very depressed.
The doctor “was obligated to respond more actively, to clinically intervene and obtain appropriate and safe treatment options” for the patient, de Leon wrote.
Ames’ physician and surgeon license remains active, according to the health department’s website.
He was given 20 days to respond to the department in writing, which would start the settlement process. If a disciplinary agreement is not reached, his case would go to a hearing.
The website for Ames Medical Center says he practices holistic and environmental medicine, particularly treating allergies and hormone disorders.
This is not Ames’ first run-in with the medical commission.
In 2009, the state Supreme Court denied his request to reverse sanctions against him for professional misconduct. That decision came after the medical commission in 2004 imposed limits for five years on Ames’ medical license.
Ames had used a biofeedback machine to attempt to diagnose an egg allergy in a patient who had complained of fatigue in 2001. The Life Information System Tens, or LISTEN, device tested the patient’s muscle resistance using low-voltage electricity.
The patient was asked to lie on a table and hold his left arm straight up in the air and resist when Ames tried to push it down. Ames pushed on the patient’s arm but did not push it down, health department documents show.
He then connected the patient to the machine, typed “eggs” into the device and pushed the patient’s arm down. He told the patient that meant he was allergic to eggs.
Ames then told the patient he could replicate the machine’s actions telepathically and claimed he had cured the patient of his egg allergy, documents said.
The patient submitted a complaint to the Department of Health, saying he was concerned about Ames’ views on metal poisoning and alternative medicine.
Ames was placed on a stayed suspension that allowed him to continue practicing medicine as long as he didn’t use the LISTEN device or have it in his office.
His petition to have his license reinstated without restriction was granted in July 2009.
About the same time, a woman with a history of depression, anxiety, insomnia and substance abuse was referred to Ames for management. The patient reportedly requested a medical provider who specialized in a natural approach to her physical symptoms.
The patient opened up to Ames about her marital problems, with Ames revealing he was in a similar situation, the statement of charges show. Their affair started in 2010, and later that year he sent a discharge letter to the woman and referred her to another doctor in order to accommodate their intimate relationship.
De Leon states that “sexual misconduct rules and longstanding ethical principles prohibit a physician from discharging a vulnerable patient who has confided personal information, for the purpose of beginning or continuing a romantic and sexual relationship.”
The document alleges that even though Ames did not treat the patient in his office during that time, he remained significantly involved in her medical care by prescribing medications, interacting with her other providers and ordering lab work.
Ames’ doctor-patient relationship with the woman further was complicated by the fact that he became her employer and prospective business partner, which financially linked them together, the document says.
De Leon said the doctor’s failure to appropriately treat the patient’s depression and anxiety “likely caused further damage to her troubled marriage and child custody issues and exacerbated her psychiatric issues.”
It is alleged that after Ames separated from his wife, he encouraged his patient to do the same with her husband. She ended up asking for a divorce, then was unsuccessful in trying to save her marriage after her romantic relationship ended with Ames, the document says.
Ames pursued his own personal interests instead of helping a vulnerable and troubled patient, the medical commission alleges.
He also reportedly did not keep records for the patient and didn’t turn over to the state any documentation about her medical care.