Ruth Netscher: Whistleblower Claims UT-Health Science Center Used Mental-Health Patients As Guinea Pigs

Research done without consent, suit says
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A former doctor and faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston claims that she was fired because she blew the whistle on other doctors who used mental health patients as research guinea pigs without proper or legal consent.

Psychiatrist Dr. Ruth Evans Netscher filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, suing the UT facility in Harris County District Court.

Not only does she claim that patients were involuntarily used as research subjects, but she believes her complaints were ignored and overruled "because of the billing and funding generated by such practices," including the "improper billing of Medicare for services," according to the whistleblower lawsuit.

Netscher's attorney, Scott Boates, tells Hair Balls that people who were involuntarily committed to the facility's mental health department, including the homeless, and who were therefore unable to give legal consent, have been "recurrently" used as research subjects.

"Faculty and doctors are assigned to patients," he says, "and if that doctor has a research project, [he or she] uses the new patient there involuntarily as a subject. Some of if may be innocuous ... but when you're in a mental health setting and someone is there involuntarily to begin with, there's no informed consent to that sort of practice."

Netshcer claims that once she became aware that the hospital was "engaging in unlawful activities," she told her supervisors, law enforcement, and the Office of the Inspector General for Medicare Fraud.

For her trouble, Netscher claims, she was fired in August.

In her lawsuit, Netscher is seeking to get her job back, plus lost benefits and seniority rights at the university hospital, or in the alternative, money for future lost earnings.

We've asked UTHSC for reaction, but haven't heard back. We'll update when we do.

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