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Former Seattle burn chief accused of misconduct

Harborview doctor didn't disclose his links to flame retardant makers

Posted: March 17, 2014 - 12:02am

SEATTLE — The Washington state panel in charge of disciplining doctors has accused a former chief of Harborview Medical Center’s burn unit of unprofessional conduct.

Administrative charges filed this week against Dr. David Heimbach allege he didn’t disclose his links to makers of flame retardants when he testified against bills that would’ve restricted or banned the use of those chemicals in Washington, California and Alaska, The Seattle Times reported Friday.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission alleges Heimbach misrepresented himself as an independent expert when he was actually a paid consultant for makers of flame retardants.

Heimbach told the Times on Tuesday he had not seen the charges. “I don’t think I did anything wrong,” he said. Attempts to reach him Friday were not successful.

Heimbach retired from Harborview in 2011 and told the newspaper he no longer practices medicine in Washington state. He has until March 31 to respond to the charges.

“They are very, very serious allegations,” the commission’s staff attorney Suzanne Mager told the Times.

During the commission’s investigation, several dozen prominent burn specialists and surgeons signed a letter supporting Heimbach. The letter noted his contributions to the field of burn treatment and said he has been a mentor to other burn doctors and an ally to burn victims and their families.

The state investigation began after stories published by the Chicago Tribune in 2012 revealed Heimbach’s association with a group called Citizens for Fire Safety Institute. The group billed itself as a coalition of doctors, educators and others, but it was created by three chemical manufacturers to fight efforts to limit the use of potentially toxic flame retardants, the newspaper reported.

Flame retardants are used in many consumer products and are intended to slow the spread of fire. Some lawmakers, including in Olympia, have tried to limit their use over safety concerns.

The state medical commission also accuses Heimbach of relating false stories about burn patients and using a photo of a badly burned infant without permission from her family, which violates privacy laws.

In all three states, Heimbach told stories about infants he claimed to have treated who died from burns, the newspaper reported. The state panel found that all the stories he told involved one case and that Heimbach did not treat the child himself.

Heimbach has said he changed the story to protect the child’s identity.

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