By BRADEN LAMMERS
The city of Jeffersonville on Friday officially notified a controversial pain management clinic located in a downtown neighborhood that it has to close its doors.
Following a decision by the Indiana Medical Licensing Board Thursday to suspend the license of Dr. Lea Marlow, who works at the Clark County Wellness Center, the city issued a notice to the clinic it is no longer a conforming use and must cease operations.
“If they are not closed in 15 days, the city will file suit asking the court to shut them down,” Les Merkley, city attorney, said Thursday afternoon. “They are no longer a legal, nonconforming use under our zoning code. We believe the license suspension means they are no longer grandfathered [in] under the zoning code.”
According to a press release, if the clinic is not closed within 15 days, Jeffersonville will assess fines for violating zoning laws and will file a lawsuit to shut down the clinic.
“The city of Jeffersonville will take the necessary steps to ensure this clinic shuts down,” said Mayor Mike Moore in the press release. “The clinic should close its doors immediately. If it doesn’t, the city will move forward with legal action. We are not going to tolerate the operation of an illegal business that the attorney general considers a clear and immediate danger to the public health and safety.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s has been investigating the clinic and on Monday filed a petition to suspend Marlow’s license.
Gabrielle Owens, deputy director of the Attorney General’s Licensing Enforcement and Homeowner Protection Unit, said in a release from the AG’s office that Marlow’s “prescribing practices are well outside the boundaries of what is considered safe and appropriate.”
According to the attorney general’s office Marlow has prescribed more than 8,000 prescriptions for 3,489 patients — with more than 95 percent receiving oxycodone. Owens said virtually all Marlow’s patients receive identical treatment in the form of oxycodone and diazepam prescriptions and she did not accept payment from private insurance companies or government entitlement programs, but instead operated as a “cash-only” business.
Marlow previously worked for Central Kentucky Bariatric and Pain Management, owned by Will Singleton. In July, Kentucky’s new regulations regarding pain clinics went into effect requiring any pain clinic be owned and operated by a board certified, licensed physician. According to the petition, the clinic moved to Jeffersonville and opened as the Clark County Wellness Center in Indiana. Marlow began prescribing there in August.
CHANGE IN STATUS
In the wake of the pain management moving into the Franklin Commons neighborhood, the city put a moratorium on allowing any new clinics to locate in Jeffersonville while they drafted a law that would limit where a pain management clinic could locate. Merkley previously said that Clark County Wellness was not subject to the new restrictions and was allowed to operate in its current location under a grandfather clause. He added that as long as the clinic stays open continuously, the new restrictions passed will have no affect on the business. However, if the business halts operations or closes its doors the restrictions would apply, he said.
But with the suspension of Marlow’s license, Merkley said that status has changed.
“Once she became suspended they became an illegal nonconforming use ... it doesn’t matter whether they hire another doctor or not,” he said.
The city’s position was also laid out in a notice sent to the clinic from Planning and Zoning Director Shane Corbin.
“The Jeffersonville zoning ordinance permits legal nonconforming uses to continue operating unimpeded provided that they remain otherwise lawful,” according to the letter. “Any unlawful activity on the property of a legal nonconforming use removes the property’s grandfather status. The city of Jeffersonville considers this an unlawful action and the continued use of the property located [at] 526 E. Maple St. as a pain management clinic is now in violation of the Jeffersonville zoning ordinance.”
The next Indiana Medical Licensing Board hearing pertaining to Marlow’s medical license is set for Jan. 24. During that time, the office will work on drafting a formal licensing complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the board has the authority to determine what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken.