Opunake battles to keep popular doctor in town

BLANTON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 15/08/2014

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Opunake residents are fighting to get their much-loved American doctor back on the job.

About 100 people attended a community meeting yesterday to discuss the future of Dr Mitchell Dean Feller, who lost his job last week.

Margaret Langton, who has been in contact with Feller in recent days, detailed the facts as she knew them before a committee was established to pursue potential options suggested by the crowd.

This included the community financially backing Feller should he wish to take legal action, and attempting to facilitate talks between Feller and Dr Brent Anderson, who runs the Opunake Medical Centre, about reinstating him under a different contract.

Although it's understood Feller cannot practice in direct competition to the centre for two years, residents desperately want him back.

The Taranaki Daily News understands he has been offered work elsewhere in the region.

Langton said that as well as helping Feller, the committee would be focused on ensuring the rural community had a high level of medical service when the new centre opened.

Opunake has historically struggled to get doctors and it's feared Feller's plight will exacerbate this.

He had been working at the centre since March but lost his job on Saturday, and subsequently his practising certificate.

The certificate said he could practice at either the Oakura or Opunake medical centres under the supervision of Dr Andrew McNeill until March next year.

On Monday the New Zealand Medical Council confirmed Feller could no longer practice, but said he could apply for another certificate should he find a new job.

There is no record of any formal complaints or disciplinary action being taken against him.

Anderson, who was not at the meeting, has previously told The Taranaki Daily News he had no idea why Feller was let go, as it was an issue between him and recruitment agency Global Medical Staffing.

Langton said that as far as she knew it was because Feller failed to meet a patient quota stipulated in his contract.

Attempts to contact both Feller and Global have been unsuccessful.

Both have previously faced charges of professional misconduct.

In 2005 a US hearing found Feller fraudulently obtained prescription drugs using patient scripts, having become "habituated to OxyContin" following a car accident in 2001.

Feller was publicly reprimanded, ordered to pay $10,000 plus costs and restrictions were added to his medical licence in his homeland. These were lifted in 2008 and he has had a clean record since.

Anderson was brought before the Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal in 2008 for the dishonest use of documents involving an application for a heavy traffic licence. He was ordered to pay a fine of $5000 and costs.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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