- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

ELGIN, N.D. — The authorities say that George Hsu wasn’t a good doctor — that a patient died because he delayed care, that he would not refer others for new treatments he considered a waste of time and money. They took away his license.

But folks in this small town accept none of that.

A 30-member committee is seeking ways to restore Mr. Hsu’s license. More than 300 people from southwestern North Dakota and northwestern South Dakota gathered for a ham dinner in January, raising thousands of dollars for his legal bills. To them, he is a well-regarded physician in a rural area where doctors are scarce and people want to know their providers.

“Everybody is looking for something to do for Dr. Hsu,” says Marie Klein, the committee’s leader. “We need him. We trust him.”

Mr. Hsu, 62, is unrepentant.

“People here know what I do,” he said, “and they don’t have a problem with what I do.”

The state Board of Medical Examiners does have a problem with Mr. Hsu. It suspended his license last March and revoked it in November, saying he provided inappropriate patient care in 10 cases.

John Olson, the medical board’s attorney, told the panel that the revocation “is absolutely essential in this case. … He needs to be out of the practice of medicine.”

Mr. Hsu has gone to court to file an appeal of the board’s ruling, but there is little reason to think he will succeed: Medical board Executive Secretary Rolf Sletten said that in his 22 years with the board, a judge has never reversed the panel’s decision.

Mr. Olson said he could not discuss details of the case against Mr. Hsu, but “we continue to stand by the record of inappropriate care.”

Mr. Hsu disagrees.

He cites one of the cases for which he was criticized by the board — that of a man who was brain-dead after suffering from heatstroke.

“I told his mom that he was going to die, and if we transferred him to a Bismarck hospital, he was going to die there, too,” Mr. Hsu said. “Allowing his mother to be with him was all that I could do. And to me, that’s an honorable thing.”

To Mr. Hsu, the only one who would have benefited from the man’s transfer would have been the hospital, which would have made thousands of dollars.

Mr. Hsu said he tries to keep down patients’ costs.

“I know what it’s like not to be able to afford medical treatment. I was a farmer,” he said. He portrays himself as one of the last doctors who work for patients, not for corporately owned clinics or hospitals.

To those who say Mr. Hsu resists change, he responds that he trusts traditional medical techniques over technology that is not necessarily for the benefit of the patient.

“I’m not giving the people all the bells and whistles, and people on the board think that’s bad medicine,” he said.

Mr. Hsu gets hugs and pats on the back when he walks around Elgin, a town of about 660.

On a recent day, Mr. Hsu rushed from a cafe to tend to a woman who had collapsed at the entrance. He spent several minutes kneeling beside her, finally helping her to her feet.

“I’m just acting as a concerned citizen, not a doctor,” Mr. Hsu said.

Mr. Hsu estimated that he has seen about 8,000 patients during his 20-year practice in the region. He had a toll-free telephone number installed at his home and was summoned day and night for everything from delivering babies to mending victims of farm machinery accidents.

He made house calls, he said, and rarely earned more than $40,000 a year.

Dr. Hsu said he was born in China and moved to the United States when he was 6. He cites a background in the military as well as in medicine: an engineering degree, a commission from the Army and service in Vietnam.

He moved to Solen, in south-central North Dakota, in 1972, to raise cattle, wheat and a family. Mr. Hsu said he remained in the Army Reserve and served as a doctor in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. His wife, Kathy, said she was a military nurse with him in Iraq; they have nine children, ages 11 to 38, and four of them still live at home.

The couple still own the clinic in Elgin, and they have hired part-time doctors to run it now that Mr. Hsu can’t. They closed their clinic in Glen Ullin, about 30 miles away, in February.

“He’s never had a malpractice suit,” Mrs. Hsu said. “He’s good at what he does, whether he’s my husband or not. I don’t know what this community will do without him.”

Jill Friesz, publisher of Elgin’s weekly newspaper, called Mr. Hsu a “great doctor” but a “renegade” who has had opportunities to change his ways.

“I would like to see him come back,” Miss Friesz said. “A lot of old people here are refusing to seek medical care if they can’t see him.”

Mr. Hsu and his wife said he had an offer five years ago to work for a hospital on the East Coast, where they would have been closer to relatives.

“There would have been no calls, no weekends and big money,” Mrs. Hsu said.

The local newspaper published a story about Mr. Hsu’s plans.

“People begged him to stay,” his wife said, “and he did.” He moved their relatives to North Dakota, instead.

Now, Mr. Hsu’s neighbors are fighting for his practice once again. But it has been almost a year since Mr. Hsu saw a patient in his office, and his calloused hands show it. His knuckles are scraped and his fingernails are dirty from doing farm work and wrenching on old cars.

“I’ve always had blue-collar hands. Now, they’re just worse,” he said.

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