Nearly a year after complaints from islanders prompted the Washington State Department of Health (DoH) to open an investigation of a woman offering pain management services on Vashon, the process has been concluded.
In November, the Secretary of Health issued a permanent cease and desist order to Bethany Barnes for the practice of medicine, osteopathic medicine, massage therapy and/or physical therapy until she obtains appropriate licensure to practice in this state. A civil fine of $5,000 was also levied against Barnes, who was given 10 days to file a petition for reconsideration of the order.
Last January, The Beachcomber reported that Barnes had moved to Vashon from Los Angeles to be close to friends who lived on the island. She subsequently began advertising her services as a pain management specialist through various island Facebook groups — and although she called her treatments naprapathy (a type of alternative health treatment involving manipulation of the connective tissue and adjoining structures), she presented herself as a medical doctor with experience in a wide range of specialties, from neurosurgery to allergy and immunology. And although she treated a few islanders, and some said they were happy with her services, there were also a number of community members who were uncomfortable with the Facebook promotions and what several felt were questionable qualifications. Out of concern for public safety, former state Sen. Sharon Nelson and Rep. Eileen Cody joined the concerned islanders in reaching out to the DoH.
Barnes’ website offered a list of stated experience and training in various specialties, such as orthopedics, sports injuries and clinical neurology, as well as an apprenticeship with a woman in Sweden who she said trained her in naprapathy, but nothing listed was verifiable. Barnes herself evaded questions when asked about her qualifications, stating that she did not need a license to practice naprapathy, and that she had never actually practiced medicine in the United States “because I am a woman” and her belief that board certification is “political.” Barnes said that she obtained her medical degree from a college in Nicaragua.
Despite saying that she was not practicing medicine, she stated to islanders that she was a physician; her Los Angeles’ practice was called “Bethany Barnes Medical – Los Angeles Pain Management Doctors, Allergy, Immunology & Toxicology Clinic,” and Barnes appeared in several videos on her website, drbethanybarnes.com, in which she called herself a doctor while wearing a labcoat with “M.D.” notably visible on a chest pocket.
The DoH opened an investigation, notifying Barnes on Dec. 19 of 2017. Barnes denied at the time that she was under investigation, and cited health issues as a reason for some of the information on her website not being “up-to-date.”
Over the past 12 months, The Beachcomber followed up with the DoH regarding the case on multiple occasions. At the end of last January, DoH spokesman David Johnson explained that “this is not an easy or quick process” — a statement that proved itself true with the findings and order still 11 months away.
And while monthly requests to the DoH were yielding no further information, The Beachcomber received two phone calls related to the story during the course of the investigation. The first was received in May from a physician in New Orleans who called because the parents of a young patient of his told him they were bringing Barnes with them to their daughter’s next appointment, believing she could help her, as she had suffered brain damage. He looked Barnes up and saw The Beachcomber story and became concerned, so he called to find out if there was any further information on the investigation. He mentioned that Barnes was living in Los Angeles, according to his patient’s family.
The second call was from Barnes herself in June. She called from a Los Angeles phone number, stating that she was returning a call. The paper had not called Barnes since December of 2017, so Barnes was asked if she knew who she was speaking to, and she said that she did not. She was reminded that she had spoken to this reporter for The Beachcomber story the previous winter, at which point she began to talk about having had more sugery and health issues. She re-stated that she was returning a call, and was told that the paper had not called her — then she said to stop calling her and hung up.
In August The Beachcomber received an email from Johnson at the DoH that a cease and desist order was sent to the State’s attorney for final approval.
A copy of the issued order, obtained through a public records request by one of the islanders involved in filing the initial complaint against Barnes, declares that Barnes did not respond to the State’s “Notice of Intent to Issue a Cease and Desist Order,” engaged in the unlicensed practice of medicine, the unlicensed practice of osteopathic medicine and surgery, the unlicensed practice of massage therapy and the unlicensed practice of physical therapy. For which, she has been ordered to pay the fine and stop practising in Washington until she is licensed.
The DoH has not responded to The Beachcomber’s requests for further information in the case, so it is not known whether Barnes has responded or filed a petition for reconsideration. The website drbethanybarnes.com no longer exists, and the phone number for her Vashon practice has been disconnected. The phone number for her Los Angeles practice is still in service but goes to a voicemail message that refers callers to the website — which is no longer available.
Calls to the California Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs revealed that Barnes has not been licensed to practice anything in the state of California either, and as they only investigate licensed individuals, any complaints regarding the validity of her credentials would have to have been made in the criminal arena. A message left with the L.A. County District Attorney’s office regarding any past or current criminal proceedings against Barnes was not returned as of press time.