The Medical Board of California suspended the license of a doctor found unconscious on a bathroom floor at the UC San Diego Medical Center after he overdosed on a powerful sedative he stole from one of the hospital’s operating rooms, a court document details.
According to the Medical Board’s accusation, Dr. Bradley Hay, a board-certified anesthesiologist, had been abusing another controlled substance, Fentanyl, in the months leading up to that Jan. 27 incident.
The Medical Board’s accusation reveals that Hay was scheduled to perform anesthesia on two patients that day, but accidentally cut his hand and damaged a tendon before those surgeries. The accusation states, "despite the injury, (Hay) returned to his assigned surgical cases in order to steal medication for his own use."
According to the accusation, Hay stole four vials of Sufentanil, an opioid more powerful than Fentanyl and 500 times more powerful than morphine. After completing those surgeries, the Board’s investigators said Hay used a nearby bathroom to inject himself with the Sufentanil. The accusation states that a nurse later found Hay in the bathroom, unconscious and covered in vomit, his pants down around his ankles, with three syringes of the Sufentanil (two of them unused) near his body.
According to the Medical Board’s 12-page accusation, Hay had a "long documented history of alcohol and drug dependence." The Medical Board’s accusation said Hay started drinking at 14 and drank a 12-pack or more, three-to-five times a week during college and medical school.
He allegedly came to work intoxicated or hung-over multiple times during his anesthesia residency in 2002-2006 and also started stealing Fentanyl during that training program, the medical board accusation details. An online search of Hay’s background shows he completed his anesthesia training as a resident at the UC San Diego Medical Center.
According to the accusation, "(Hay) initially bought the Fentanyl home for his own use (during his residency), but then eventually began injecting himself with Fentanyl in the bathrooms at work."
The accusation notes despite that his history of abusing alcohol and controlled substances, Hay was offered a job at UC San Diego after he finished his training program there.
According to the Medical Board’s accusation, "due to stress and substance abuse issues, (Hay) took time off before beginning that job." According to the accusation, during his time off, Hay "drank approximately one liter of vodka each day."
Hay joined the UC San Diego Medical Center staff in 2007, where, according to the accusation, he was confronted the following year by hospital colleagues who saw him impaired while on duty.
It is unclear from the accusation whether anyone at UC San Diego Medical Center knew about Hay’s drug and alcohol abuse at that time. UC San Diego executives declined to answer specific questions submitted in writing by NBC 7 Investigates, including how and under what circumstances they hired Hay, how they supervised him, when they learned of his alleged drug and alcohol problems, and the details of any counseling, practice restrictions, or special supervision they imposed on Hay. A Medical Center spokesman would only confirm that "Dr. Hay no longer practices medicine here."
In a statement to NBC 7 Investigates, Hay’s lawyer, Steve Zeigen said Hay has been "clean and sober" for ten months, submits to weekly drug tests and is taking an opiate blocker to prevent relapse.
"He continues to steadfastly maintain a sober living regimen, using all the resources at his disposal to make sure this error never reoccurs," the attorney said. "He is deeply committed to his sobriety, his family, and his profession."
An expert in physician discipline told NBC 7 Investigates that Hay’s alleged drug and alcohol addictions put patients at extreme risk.
"Anesthesiologists are responsible for putting you under, keeping you alive, and bringing you back (to consciousness)," said Julie Fellmeth, a supervising attorney at the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law. "If that anesthesiologist has even one moment of impairment or distraction, that patient’s life is absolutely in danger."
According to the Medical Board’s accusation, UC San Diego "referred him for treatment" in 2008. The accusation states that Hay was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given medications for that mental illness.
The accusation states that Hay returned to UCSD later that year and stayed sober until 2014.
But the Medical Board alleges that in October 2015, Hay stopped seeing his psychiatrist and started self-prescribing medications, including Modafinil, a potentially addictive stimulant. In the accusation, investigators said Hay purchased prescription medication from India and started using Fentanyl again in April 2016, injecting himself up to eight times a day with that powerful opioid.
According to the accusation, Hay continued to work at UC San Diego during that period and checked himself into a treatment center in October 2016. The Medical Board said Hays did not inform his Medical Center supervisors about his relapse or treatment.
The Medical Board determined, according to the accusation, that despite that treatment, Hay started using Fentanyl again. Not long after resuming the illicit use of the addictive opiate, in January 2017, he allegedly stole the Sufentanil from the Medical Center’s surgical suite and overdosed in the hospital bathroom.
According to the accusation, Medical Center staffers told him to go to the hospital’s emergency room after he recovered from the overdose, but Hay instead left the campus and did not report to the ER. He then took a medical leave of absence from UC San Diego, and in February 2017, again enrolled in an addiction treatment center, where he received treatment until April.
Around that time, the Medical Board said it was alerted to the problem, and Hay voluntarily submitted to a mental health exam. According to the Board accusation, the psychiatrist who examined Hay concluded Hay suffers from "severe opioid use disorder" and was in "early remission."
The psychiatrist also determined that Hay’s "…ability to practice medicine safely is impaired by his opioid use disorder, and permitting (him) to engage in the unrestricted practice of medicine will endanger the public health, safety, and welfare."
There is no indication that Hay continued to practice medicine after his January 2017 overdose, but the Medical Board took the aggressive and unusual step of asking a state administrative law judge to immediately suspend Hay’s license, which the Judge did in September 2017.
According to the judge’s September 8 order, Hay, through his attorney, admitted he had violated provisions of the Medical Practice Act and was unable to practice medicine safely. Hay did not contest the Medical Board’s request for the interim suspension, but his lawyer told NBC 7 Investigates Hay will try to persuade the Medical Board not to revoke his license, and to allow him to resume treating patients.
Fellmeth disagrees. She said the Medical Board should revoke Hay’s license.
"He can petition for reinstatement after 5 years, and during that 5-year period, he should seek long-term and serious inpatient detoxification treatment. After that, he should submit to monitoring and constant drug testing. He should also seek psychiatric treatment, and the psychiatrist should be required to submit quarterly reports to MBC."
NBC 7 Investigates is reporting on medical professionals accused by the public and the California Medical Board of wrongdoing in order to bring information to the public and increase transparency of medical practices in the San Diego region. Currently, this information is reported by the Medical Board on its website.