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Push to practice: With few computer skills, doctor fights to regain her license 

  • Dr. Anna Konopka sits in her tiny office, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 in New London, N.H.. The 84-year-old physician is fighting to get her license back after being accused by the state's Board of Medicine of problems with her record keeping, prescribing of medicines and medical decision making. Among the problems is that she doesn't use a computer so can't participate in the state-regulated drug monitoring program. (AP Photo/Michael Casey) Michael Casey

  • Dr. Anna Konopka stands in front of her tiny office where she sees patients, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 in New London, N.H.. The 84-year-old physician is fighting to get her license back after being accused by the state's Board of Medicine of problems with her record keeping, prescribing of medicines and medical decision making. Among the problems is that she doesn't use a computer so can't participate in the state-regulated drug monitoring program. (AP Photo/Michael Casey) Michael Casey

  • Dr. Anna Konopka stands in her tiny office where she sees patients, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 in New London, N.H.. The 84-year-old physician is fighting to get her license back after being accused by the state's Board of Medicine of problems with her record keeping, prescribing of medicines and medical decision making. Among the problems is that she doesn't use a computer so can't participate in the state-regulated drug monitoring program. (AP Photo/Michael Casey) Michael Casey

  • Dr. Anna Konopka speaks in her own defense during the emergency court hearing seeking an injunction on the loss of her medical license at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday, Novermber 3, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Barbara McKelvy greets Dr. Anna Konopka after the emergency court hearing concerning the doctor’s medical license at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday, November 3, 2107. All four of McKelvy’s children went to the doctor growing up. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Barbara McKelvy greets Dr. Anna Konopka after the emergency court hearing concerning the doctor’s medical license at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday, November 3, 2107. All four of McKelvy’s children went to the doctor growing up. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Anna Konopka was optimistic after the emergency court hearing concerning her medical license revocation at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday November 3, 2107. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Anna Konopka consoles former patient Amanda Bulliner after an emergency court hearing Friday on the revocation of the doctor’s medical license at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, November 03, 2017

Her patients walked into the courthouse lobby, some moving on crutches, others walking gingerly.

They had driven 50 miles and beyond to support Anna Konopka, the doctor who lost her license to practice medicine last month and went to Superior Court Friday to get it back.

Konopka sought an injunction from the judge. He said he’d take it under advisement during a quick hearing. Her patients said they were outraged, and they lined up enthusiastically to tell me why.

Steve Sarlo of Lebanon was there, grateful the good doctor had provided some relief for his aching back and neck, hurt while working in a New York factory.

Kim Borcuk of Claremont was there, too, ready to stand behind the doctor for lessening the effects of her rheumatoid arthritis.

Amanda Bulliner of Newport has awful back pain as well, or at least she did, until this 84-year-old woman took control. Six surgeries, recommended by mainstream doctors, didn’t help.

“She’s helped with pain management and used herbal remedies,” Bulliner told me. “She’s used water therapy, which a lot of doctors don’t do. And she’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The New Hampshire Board of Medicine sees things differently. After 55 years practicing medicine, including the past 28 in New London, Konopka signed a document under the heading, “Voluntary Surrender of License.”

In it, Konopka agreed that “This license surrender has occurred in settlement of pending allegations regarding my record keeping, prescribing practices and medical decision making.”

There were four allegations lodged against Konopka, assistant attorney general Lyn Cusack said after the hearing. They would have been made public if Konopka had not signed on the dotted line in September.

The central issue seems to be Konopka’s refusal to move into the computer age. She told me she registered with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, considered vital in this age of opioid addiction, but without being online she has no way of checking it. She says she can’t afford to move her filing cabinets into the digital age.

She says her current system works just fine.

“I have records for patients for over 20 years,” Konopka told me before the hearing. “I have lab tests, consultations, everything I need.”

She also had letters from patients. Lots of letters. They defended their doctor, saying they’ve seen her after hours, sometimes late at night, once on Christmas Eve, whenever they needed her.

They talked about her bed-side manner, her $50 fee for whatever ailed them, her discipline when it came to prescribing pain-killing, addictive medication.

One letter read Konopka “has always put the needs of my children, her patients, before her personal financial gain, treating the children in a reasonable and fair manner, and never compromising their health or medical treatment because of my limited financial considerations.”

Another one said, “My husband and I were able to live out his remaining years with the best and always available interventions as he suffered from Parkinson’s dementia for eight years. (Her) support allowed me to care for him at home myself until his death in 2010.”

Another letter writer thanked the doctor for suggesting milk for her acne. It worked.

And then there were the patients who showed up in person Friday. They moved slowly but spoke with great energy.

Borcuk heard me talking to Konopka and flung her voice across the lobby. “She’s amazing and she helped me tremendously compared to Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” Borcuk said. “She changed my medical lineup and went with more herbal formulas and vitamins, medicine with less side effects. And how many doctors do you know would spend two hours with a patient?”

It’s easy, of course, to take the side of this purple-clad woman with a thick Polish accent and the heart of a lion. Under the thumb of Communism and cruelty, she left her homeland behind to work in the states, first in Long Island and New York City, then here in New London. She said she sent money back to her homeland for her family.

She recalls landmark dates as though they occurred yesterday. Arrived in the United States? Nov. 4, 1961 (happy 56th anniversary). First day of work? April 1, 1962.

She swims in Lake Sunapee until it freezes, telling me the water temperature once was 61 degrees. She sympathizes with those who can’t afford Obamacare, and the stories former patients relayed at the courthouse Friday were astounding.

Like this one from Stanley Wright of Claremont, who said he “yanked out his back while snow-blowing.”

“I had no feelings from my waste down,” Wright said. “The doctor I had before was over-medicating me big time.”

Wright’s son, Stephen Sirek, sat beside his father and told me, “He was on three different opioids, and now he’s on one and a much smaller dosage. It’s been 100 percent turnaround for him.”

In court, of course, a different story surfaced. After all, Konopka did, indeed, sign that document forfeiting her medical license, and she had an attorney at the time.

Why, Cusack wanted to know, did she claim she signed the document under duress?

“She hasn’t articulated what that duress is,” Cusack told the judge. “They negotiated for a number of days and agreed that she would voluntarily surrender that license rather than facing the charges that were against her.”

Further, critics might say the technological age has left her behind, damaging her credibility. And what about those four mysterious charges?

Konopka and her supporters suspect a conspiracy, concocted by the medical community. In a letter dated Oct. 24, she accused one doctor of “lies and fabricated accusations.”

She said New London Hospital, in need of money, is stealing her patients, writing, “New London Hospital, for many years, has advised my patients to switch their care to New London Hospital but recently they have been recruiting my patients more aggressively. The 30 acute bed hospital is in financial difficulty due to very high administrative expenses.”

Barbara McKelvy of New London told me her four kids, ages 12 to 16, have gotten great care from Konopka. She said her sister did, too.

She said that Konopka’s homeopathic remedies work, that the danger of addiction is diminished, that “this is all about money and control. They don’t want doctors like her anymore because she’s going against the grain of the entire system.”

And, of course, there’s the doctor’s fee. Come rain or shine, everyone told me, it’s 50 bucks. Konopka, they said, comes from a different era. She stays in touch, cares about her patients, treats them like people, knows her stuff.

“Now, McKelvy said, “I have no where to go.”