Steneker exonerated from medical board charges

The state board that oversees medical practitioners dismissed all of the charges it leveled against Dr. Sjardo Steneker a little more than a year ago and called for a “public exoneration” of the popular Vashon physician.

In an 11-page final order issued Jan. 28, a three-member panel said the state Department of Health failed to prove that Steneker committed a number of alleged infractions filed against him, including falsifying patient records, billing for services not provided and failing to comply with a previous medical board order.

Steneker, it said in its ruling, “is exonerated from all accusations.”

Steneker, a family practice doctor with a clinic in town, said he was “elated” by the ruling.

“This is beautiful. I’ve been heard. I can practice medicine,” Steneker said in a brief interview.

“I’m not being watched over by a watchdog, and I can relax and just practice what I’m good at and serve the people who have been tremendously supportive of me,” he added.

Patti Lasch, deputy director of the health professional quality assurance program for the state Department of Health, said the ruling ends the process stemming from its December 2006 complaint. Lasch, who said she was not familiar with the specifics of the Steneker case, added that a call for a public exoneration is standard language in such an order.

“In disciplinary cases, the burden of proof is clear, cogent and convincing evidence, and if a case is not proven by that standard, the case is going to be dismissed,” she said. “The department was not able to meet that burden.”

Asked if the department would cover Steneker’s legal costs, she said there is no provision for such payment for cases before the medical board.

The Department of Health, in its charges a year ago, said that Steneker made several coding and charting errors in an alleged effort to get higher reimbursements from insurance companies and get around restrictions placed on him by Regence Blue Shield.

The health department also said Steneker failed to comply with a previous ruling by the medical commission that required, among other things, that he work in a group practice with at least two other physicians.

The three-member panel, however, found that the billing mistakes occurred because of errors by a billing company, that Steneker’s charting practices were proper and that in some cases he sought a lower, not higher, reimbursement than insurance rules allowed.

The panel also said that Steneker has maintained a group practice and that the group practice has established internal controls and shared responsibility for its financial and administrative operations.

The department, the panel ruled, “failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that (Steneker’s) conduct constituted unprofessional conduct.”

This is the second time Steneker has been before the medical board. As a result of a previous ruling, he was ordered to pay a fine, complete an ethics course and take continuing medical education courses, all of which he has done, according to the medical board.