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Clinics transition to new physician

Nurse practitioners at area RapidCare clinics are forming agreements with a physician that will allow them to continue to practice after the clinics' embattled owner, Dr. Rodney J. Lee, had his license temporarily suspended.

Lee

Nurse practitioners at area RapidCare clinics are forming agreements with a physician that will allow them to continue to practice after the clinics' embattled owner, Dr. Rodney J. Lee, had his license temporarily suspended.

Meanwhile, Lee said he has had discussions with unspecified parties about selling his five clinics in Fargo, Grand Forks, N.D., Moorhead and Detroit Lakes, Minn.

"I would like to operate the clinics without working as a provider seeing patients, and that was part of my plan a couple months ago, but ... I'm probably going to detach myself completely to save the clinics," Lee said Wednesday.

The North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners on Friday issued an emergency suspension of Lee's license, saying he violated accepted medical practices in several areas.

Lee's license to practice medicine in Minnesota remains in active status, according to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.

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The North Dakota allegations include that Lee stored drugs returned from patients in a desk drawer, kept poor records related to pain-management patients and billed Medicaid under his name for services completed by physician assistants and nurse practitioners whose work receives a lower reimbursement rate.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also is investigating Lee, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Cass County District Court.

"If I feel there is some undo targeting toward me, it will then extend to the clinics if I still own them," Lee said.

Eight nurse practitioners working at RapidCare clinics in Fargo and Grand Forks have informed the state Board of Nursing that they are terminating their collaborative agreements with Lee, said Connie Kalanek, executive director of the licensing unit.

Four of the practitioners have had new agreements approved to collaborate with Dr. Hans Bjellum, a family-practice physician in Alexandria, Minn. Agreements for the other four are expected to be approved by the end of the week, Kalanek said.

Bjellum, a native of Kittery, Maine, attended the University of North Dakota, where he earned a medical degree in 1997, according to the Alexandria Clinic's Web site.

Lee said he and Bjellum did their family-practice residency together in Fargo. Bjellum was out of the office Wednesday and did not return a message left at his home.

Lee also said all five RapidCare clinics were closed Wednesday for reasons related to his North Dakota license suspension that affected staffing or pharmacies unwilling to fill prescriptions.

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Moorhead Drug Store pharmacist Jim Bjorklund said they will continue filling prescriptions from the Moorhead RapidCare as long as Lee's license is not suspended in Minnesota.

Lee said he was still waiting for the North Dakota licensing board to approve a new supervision contract for his physician assistant at the 1517 32nd Ave. S. location. He said he hoped it would be open today.

Lee said he's not aware of any changes coming for RapidCare's 40-plus employees, although he added, "It won't be my decision. I don't know if it'll be Dr. Bjellum's or some other involved parties, or a combination."

Lee is scheduled for an Aug. 13 hearing before the North Dakota licensing board.

Lee said he believes Fargo's MeritCare Hospital has been concerned about RapidCare as a competitor and had "strategy meetings" to discuss his clinics.

MeritCare spokeswoman Carrie Haug said while officials are in tune with what's going on in the medical industry locally and regionally, MeritCare did not have any meetings related to RapidCare.

Lee declined a Forum request for correspondence between him and the board, citing confidentiality issues.

Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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