The Los Angeles Times has endorsed a legislative plan to replace members of the Medical Board of California for nonfeasance, citing ineptitude and inaction that has led in some cases to patient death.

A public interest lawyer from San Diego, formerly charged by the legislature with monitoring the board's enforcement program, told media he'd met with board members this month to advise them of their incompetence. "People are dying at these outpatient centers and your paramount responsibility is to keep that from happening," Julie D'Angelo Fellmeth said.

The board oversees the licensing and discipline of physicians in the state, with jurisdiction over 1,200 doctor-owned outpatient surgical clinics. Since 1975, California has charged the board, normally comprised by eight physicians and seven "public members," with overseeing practice discipline among physicians in lieu of medical liability torts.

However, the board has performed negligently in failing to punish physicians for misdeeds or incompetence. According to the Times: "Because of its ineffectiveness in a variety of spheres, patients have died. Dangerous doctors have been allowed to continue operating for years after their malpractice first surfaced; surgical clinics allowed to remain open for years after dangerous conditions there were identified."

Long ago, the Times said, the board developed a reputation for being one of the least effective regulators in the state. Presently, four seats subject to appointment by the governor are vacant and the board has yet to fill 18 vacancies for medical practice enforcement staff, even though the state authorized the positions in 2010.

Since 2007, California has ranked among the worst states in failure to regulate its physicians. Watchdog group Public Citizen reported in 2011 that the board had failed to discipline more than 700 doctors who'd been disciplined by hospitals and clinics, including 102 who had been found to pose an "immediate threat" to the public.

The Times said the board's feckless oversight led directly to patient deaths, with dangerous surgical clinics still operating years after initial complaints. Legislators with purview over the regulatory board say they may scrub the current membership and executive director by Jan. 1, when state law requires reauthorization of the board.

"That's not an idle threat," said Sen. Curren Price, a democrat from Los Angeles, who chairs the board's "sunset review" with Assemblyman Richard Gordon, a democrat from Menlo Park.