Posted: 12:05 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

OHIO POLITICS

State pharmacy change raises concerns



By Amanda Seitz and Josh Sweigart

Staff Writer

The director of Ohio’s pharmacy board is stepping down and pharmacists fear a recent change in state law could allow for him to be replaced by someone with no experience in the field.

This follows accusations that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was playing politics earlier this month when he appointed a new director to the Ohio Board of Health who holds no medical degree, unlike most of his predecessors.

A similar scenario had the potential to play out when state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, was approached about becoming director of the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy, this newspaper confirmed. But Watchmann said he turned down the post to avoid a media firestorm.

Wachtmann, who is reaching his term limit after 30 years in the General Assembly, has chaired health committees in both the House and the Senate. He has worked on pharmacy-related issues such as bills aimed at curbing opiate addiction, but is a business owner with no college degree.

Citing a potential conflict of interest, Wachtmann abstained in June from the vote nixing the requirement that the pharmacy board director be a licensed pharmacist. The change is effective in mid-September.

“To us, as pharmacists, we strongly believe (the director) needs to be a pharmacist,” said Ernie Boyd, Ohio Pharmacy Association spokesman. “We feel that it’s a pretty important public position that requires a pretty specific knowledge base.”

The pharmacy board fields and investigates complaints about illegal drug dealing among Ohio’s pharmacists.

Current Executive Director Kyle Parker will step down Sept. 1, although it is not clear what he is leaving the post to pursue. Agency officials said he did not want to be interviewed for this story.

“It is time for a new chapter for me,” he wrote in the department’s August newsletter.

Boyd said he was not aware of any criticism that would lead to Parker’s ousting.

“There’s been zero negative toward him on the pharmacy side,” he said.

Governor appoints board

The pharmacy board director is appointed by the nine-member pharmacy board, all of whom are appointed by the governor.

“You want your best people on it,” Kasich said Tuesday when asked about the pharmacy board post at a campaign stop in Beavercreek. He called it “vital” because of concerns including opiate addiction.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor supported eliminating the requirement that the pharmacy director be a pharmacist because the job doesn’t pay enough to attract top pharmacists, but it does pay enough to attract top administrators. As executive director, Parker makes $128,900 annually while the average pharmacist makes $116,670, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nichols said the governor’s office didn’t approach Wachtmann about the job, and has delegated the hire to the board.

“He approached us and said, ‘I’m going to be term-limited out, I’d like to have a discussion about possible boards in the future,’ but we didn’t talk specifically about the board of pharmacy,” Nichols said.

State Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, voted against the change and said she’s concerned the legislation will allow inexperienced people to take on the role of executive director.

“Taxpayers expect and deserve highly skilled professionals in positions of power,” Pillich said in a statement. “With the rise of prescription painkiller abuse in our state, I would think we need that expertise and leadership at the pharmcy board now more than ever before.”

Precedent for move

Some pharmacists agreed that a non-pharmacist might be ill-equipped to handle problems or changes in the industry.

“The bottom line is that somebody who is not a pharmacist doesn’t understand the practice of pharmacy,” said Robert Weber, the administrator for pharmacy services at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “It would not be a positive for the executive director to not be a pharmacist.”

But other boards and medical agencies in the state run without the leadership of a licensed practitioner.

The State Medical Board of Ohio, for example, has had a rotation of lawyers leading the agency the past two years. Currently, Jonathan Blanton, a lawyer who previously worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, is serving as an interim director — the agency’s second in two years. The board is searching for a new director.

Earlier this month, Kasich announced he would appoint Rick Hodges, the executive director of the state’s turnpike commission, as the new health director. He will be the agency’s third director in 30 years to not hold a medical degree.

State Rep. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, proposed the amendment that changed the requirement. She said it brought the board in line with similar boards.

“The director of the dental board is a lawyer and the director of the optical dispensers board is a nurse,” she said. “I offered the amendment on the floor of the House because I believed this was a common-sense change to the law that is already being practiced in other boards.”

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