Bad Medicine

Psychotropic drugs, a hemorrhoidectomy, and the doctor from Vashon.

The state of Washington doesn't often go after physicians' licenses. In fact, the watchdog group Public Citizen ranks the state's Medical Quality Assurance Commission as one of the least aggressive in the United States.

But then there is Dr. Sjardo Steneker, against whom the commission is acting with uncommon zeal. In a statement of charges filed last month, the state alleges that from 1997 to 2000 the Vashon Island family medicine doctor misprescribed drugs to patients with known drug and alcohol dependence problems and outlines instances in which Steneker stole supplies from medical facilities where he was employed.

And that's just the beginning.

On Aug. 2, 1997, Steneker is alleged to have performed a hemorrhoidectomy on a drunk patient, according to the statement.

In the statement, the commission also alleges that Steneker prescribed 14 separate drugs, including powerful psychotropics, over a seven-week period to one unidentified patient and that he gave four other patients an "excessive amount" of narcotics, at times without even requiring a patient visit.

Most striking is that in January and February 2001, Steneker stole more than $7,000 worth of medical supplies—including a knee brace, wrist splints, and medical instruments—from Virginia Mason Medical Center in Federal Way, where the doctor was employed at the time. In February, Steneker pleaded guilty to attempted malicious mischief, a misdemeanor.

As a result, the commission is throwing the book at Steneker, who has a private practice on Vashon Island and sees patients at the Vashon Community Care Center nursing home. It accuses him of incompetence, malpractice, fraud, and unprofessional conduct, according to the statement.

Steneker faces revocation of his medical license when the commission considers his case before year's end, says Lisa Pigott, program manager of the commission. She says it's the first case she's encountered in her 10 years with the commission in which a doctor was found to have stolen materials.

Steneker does have options.

"He can voluntarily relinquish his license or take his chances at the hearing," says Pigott. "We have our evidence together."

Steneker was unavailable for comment. His attorney, Patrick Sheldon, says the doctor denies the charges and that the theft from Virginia Mason does not bring his medical skills into question.

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