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Continued: Whistleblower: Podiatrist faces new state scrutiny

  • Article by: BY JAMES ELI SHIFFER
  • Last update: May 23, 2011 - 11:20 AM

Six years ago, a Twin Cities podiatrist faced serious complaints about his practice. Among other misconduct, Dr. Robert Mullin botched several surgeries by cutting too much bone from patients' toes and withheld money owed to patients and insurers to preserve his cash flow, according to the Minnesota Board of Podiatric Medicine.

The board reprimanded Mullin in 2005, putting conditions on his license that required him to stop advertising services he didn't offer, provide required refunds within a month and submit regular financial reports to the board.

Since then, Mullin has faced more complaints. A former patient won a court judgment against the physician last year for charging twice for the same service. Another patient sued over an allegedly bungled hammertoe surgery -- it was the seventh malpractice lawsuit against Mullin in Hennepin County since 1997, records show. More recently, Mullin and his clinic, Advanced Foot and Ankle Care Clinics Ltd., were terminated by at least two insurance networks.

Despite his troubled history, Mullin is still practicing. His website describes him as a "nationally recognized" pioneer in using lasers to treat toenail and fingernail fungus.

Mullin did not return phone and e-mail messages from Whistleblower.

Podiatry board President Dr. Stephen Powless said his agency continues to investigate Mullin's practice.

"The resolution to the problem can't come quickly enough for me," said Powless, a Park Nicollet podiatrist. "I have spent my career improving our training and making our profession better. People like this really get to me, because it paints us in that light."

Powless declined to discuss current allegations against Mullin, but he said the board's earlier intervention fixed Mullin's problems with a specific surgical procedure.

In lawsuits against Mullin, former patients complained about Mullin's ability to correct hammertoes and bunions. At least three people lost parts of their toes and ended up with painful and crippling injuries, according to the lawsuits.

In court pleadings, Mullin denied committing malpractice or injuring his patients, court records show.

However, in his 2005 disciplinary proceeding, Mullin did not dispute allegations that he performed "a number of hammertoe surgeries in which he removed excessive bone, resulting in pain, instability and the need for corrective surgeries." Mullin also didn't dispute that he failed to promptly return credit balances and overpayments, advertised a service he didn't provide and wrote progress notes in illegible handwriting, according to the order.

The board also noted Mullin used obscene language and behaved in a "hostile and intimidating" manner toward its investigator.

To address his surgical shortcomings, Mullin received additional training and modified his surgical techniques "to avoid removal of excess bone," according to the order. Mullin also agreed to provide regulators with outside financial audits of his practice.

Despite the extra state oversight, patients have continued to complain that Mullin has withheld refunds or overpayments.

In September 2009, Hugh Morris, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Minneapolis, paid Advanced Foot and Ankle Care $390 for shoe inserts after being told they weren't covered by his insurer, UCare. Yet Morris later found out that his insurer was billed and had paid $455 for the same service.

Morris sued Mullin in conciliation court and won a $530 judgment last June. Morris got a partial refund, but he's still waiting for $188.62, court records show. Morris also complained to the podiatry board, but five months later the board told him its complaint review committee decided disciplinary action "is not warranted at this time."

"He's gotten away with this for years," Morris said.

The office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has referred complaints about Mullin's billing to the podiatry board and the state Department of Human Services, spokesman Ben Wogsland told Whistleblower. "We are very well aware of Mr. Mullin's practices," Wogsland said.

UCare spokeswoman Wendy Wicks said Mullin was terminated from its network in 2008 after failing to maintain his credentials, while the clinic and the other podiatrist in Mullin's practice were terminated from the network in 2009. HealthPartners spokesman Jeff Shelman said Mullin's clinic was terminated from its network on Dec. 31, 2010.

Both insurers described the actions as rare.

Mullin is one of three of the state's 210 podiatrists who practice with conditions on their licenses. State regulators haven't suspended a podiatrist's license since 2003, when it took action against a drug abuser with four prior disciplinary actions.

Mullin, who once had four offices in the Twin Cities, now works out of two locations, according to his website. Callers to his apparently shuttered Minneapolis clinic receive an automated message: "We are no longer scheduling appointments for new or existing patients with the exception of the patients who are calling about the laser treatment for nail fungus. Please contact another podiatrist."

james.shiffer@startribune.com - 612-673-4271
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  • Hugh Morris paid $390 for shoe inserts even though his insurer covered the costs of the service. Morris won a $530 judgment against Dr. Mullin last year.

  • Web site of Dr. Robert Mullin, DPM, at nailfunguslasermn.com/drmullin.html.

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