State lawmakers, unlike their federal counterparts, don’t rake in the big bucks.
In two states, they make six-figure salaries — but those states, according to Ballotpedia, are California and New York, where legislators take home $114,877 and $110,000 a year, respectively. And sure, that’ll get you a studio apartment in California, but what about utilities?
In Maryland, the number is roughly half that: $50,330 a year. Thus, many lawmakers not only come from the private sector but stay there after they get elected, particularly if they have high-paying jobs — like, say, being a doctor.
I get that. However, if Maryland state Del. Terri Hill cares about her constituents as much as she cares about her patients, perhaps she should have neither gig.
According to The Associated Press, Hill, a Democrat, was fined $15,000 and hit with a reprimand by the Maryland Board of Physicians for participating in two separate virtual legislative meetings, including a voting session, while she was in the operating room.
Like many states, Maryland’s legislative committee meetings were held via videoconferencing software this year because of COVID-19 protocols. On two occasions, Hill — a board-certified plastic surgeon — left patients on the operating table while she dealt with legislative business.
Earlier this month, Hill signed a consent order which found her guilty of “unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine.”
The first report of Hill’s, um, multitasking came in a March 23 article in the Baltimore Sun. During a February committee meeting of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, she stepped away from a patient to present a bill via Zoom.
During a March 12 meeting of the Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee, which lasted about an hour, Hill’s feed “showed multiple gowned and masked figures moving about, with sets of operating room lights visible on the screen,” the Sun reported. The hearings were being broadcast on both YouTube and the General Assembly’s website as they happened.
“She was positioned under the surgical lights, focused downward, and would occasionally shift, reach for surgical instruments, or adjust the lights,” the report read, adding Hill and her staff “occasionally moved surgical equipment and blood-stained towels so that they were briefly visible on the video feed.”
According to The Hill, the doctor acknowledged to the board her participation wasn’t required in either of the sessions.
Hill, whose district covers areas of Baltimore and Howard counties, insisted this was entirely safe when the Sun first reported on it.
“Had there been any safety or privacy concerns, then I wouldn’t have done it,” Hill told the Sun in March, although she declined to say what the surgeries being performed at the time were.
“I’m a little surprised that this is becoming a big deal because there are no privacy issues. There are no attention-to-duty issues and there’s no dereliction-of-duty issues,” she said.
“So, the only issue is people’s perception of what could or could not or must or must not have been going on.”
The perception of the people on the Maryland Board of Physicians — which I trust to be a bit more educated in the matter — begged to differ.
During an April disciplinary panel hearing, she said that both patients “gave permission” for her to attend the hearings, according to the AP. However, in both cases, the surgery was major, in one case there was no record of consent and in the other, she asked for consent only minutes before surgery started.
“In its findings of fact published on its website, the board cited records that show Hill performed major abdominal surgery on one of the patients in February — and that the patient’s preoperative consent forms do not document consent or notice about Hill participating in a legislative committee during surgery,” the AP reported. “The patient did not recall being asked about participating in a legislative committee meeting by videoconference, according to the board’s report.”
Hill would tell the board’s staff during a May interview that she may have just informed the patient of the possibility she’d have to “take a call” during the procedure and, when asked about the fact the patient couldn’t recall the conversation, said “there was a lot going on, getting the patient to the hospital, getting them to the OR. I’m sure she was nervous.”
“Patient 1 also said that it was a little discomforting that attention was taken away from her during the surgery,” the board’s report read.
The March case involved major abdominal and back surgery. Again, the preoperative forms have no mention of Hill stepping away from legislative meetings. This time, the AP reported, “the patient reported to the board’s disciplinary panel that Hill told her about the committee meeting 10 minutes before surgery started and that she consented to Hill’s participation.”
Furthermore, the fact Hill was presenting legislation from the operating room was noted by committee chairman Del. Kumar Barve during the Feb. 12 incident, given Hill was wearing surgical gear at the time.
“Before we start the timer, are you at work? What’s going on here?” Barve asked.
“I’m at work, yes,” Hill said. “You’re at work, I’m at work.”
“All right, cool,” Barve said. “Go for it.”
The Maryland Board of Physicians was less cool, as indicated by the consent order.
“In a statement Friday night, Hill said she has worked hard to fulfill her professional obligations to both her patients and her constituents during the pandemic — a balance that has been challenging at times,” the AP reported.
“I accept the Board’s decision that I could have done better,” Hill said via text message.
It’s worth noting that while there has been an uptick in demand for plastic surgery in 2021, according to an April media release by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Hill didn’t have to take on more patients than she could handle. It’s also worth noting that, given the fact legislative sessions were virtual in 2021, that meant it was easier than ever for her to attend.
Hill apparently lacks the necessary bandwidth to give her patients and her constituents the attention they need to solve their issues, in other words. Ordinarily, this would mean she’d be the perfect Democratic politician, but the job doesn’t pay as well as plastic surgery.
On one hand, I’m tempted to say perhaps she should leave not caring about the people who elected her to the experts and focus on medicine, instead. On the other hand, though, patients undergoing surgery expect competence and results, something we’ve given up on when it comes to our legislators.
If Hill is the kind of doctor to step away from the operating table to attend committee hearings, maybe politics really is her calling, after all.
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