The state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing has overturned a dismissal of charges of unprofessional conduct against a Richfield optometrist and has placed his license on two years probation.
Richard L. Leukenga can still practice, but the state will audit him to verify he is referring patients to physicians when he should, the order said.Leukenga is accused of overstepping his profession's legal bounds by treating an eye disease. State law restricts optometry to prescribing eyeglass lenses. And if an optometrist detects an eye disease he must refer the patient to a physician.
Leukenga examined a patient and diagnosed an eye disease called Fuch's dystrophy - where the cornea swells with fluid, becoming thickened and opaque. He treated it with hypertonic sodium chloride instead of referring the patient to a physician. But after the patient left his office, Leukenga consulted with a physician who agreed with the treatment.
Two days later, the patient was admitted to Veteran's Administration Hospital after an ophthalmologist found his eye condition "a dire emergency," division documents said.
After a hearing on the charges, the state optometry board found the emergency was not caused by Leukenga's treatment. Furthermore, the board determined Leukenga didn't violate state law because the physician he contacted agreed with the treatment.
The board recommended dropping the charges, with a warning to Leukenga to refer patients before treating them.
But in his final order, division director David Robinson said the board failed to recognize that Leukenga violated state law, despite getting a physician's approval after the fact.
"Neither the division nor the board can allow an optometrist to render treatment which exceeds that permitted by statute," Robinson said.
Leukenga contends he didn't hurt anyone but is the victim of antiquated state laws and a turf war between ophthalmologists and optometrists.
"A physician assistant or a nurse practitioner can do more than we can," he said, noting other states allow optometrists more leeway in treating eye diseases.
In his order, Robinson hinted that Leukenga and the board may indeed feel frustrated by their limited scope of practice in Utah. But "the division must enforce the current law," he said.
Leukenga said his profession will attempt to get the Legislature to change the law when it meets.