Maryland lawmaker fined for teleconferencing from operating room

Maryland Delegate Terri Hill (D-12th) represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties.

A Maryland state lawmaker who is a plastic surgeon has been fined $15,000 and reprimanded for twice participating in legislative meetings via videoconference from an operating room during surgery.

Del. Terri Hill signed a consent order this month agreeing to the disciplinary actions from the Maryland Board of Physicians, which found the Democratic lawmaker guilty of "unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine."

The board noted that Hill participated in one voting session of a House committee while appearing in a video feed wearing "a surgical gown, facemask, and surgical cap."

In Maryland’s legislative session this year, legislative committee meetings were held by videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The public was able to livestream the meetings and hearings.

"She was positioned under the surgical lights, focused downward, and would occasionally shift, reach for surgical instruments, or adjust the lights," the board’s report said, noting the surgeon and other operating room staff "occasionally moved surgical equipment and blood-stained towels so that they were briefly visible on the video feed."

In a statement Friday night, Hill said she has worked hard to fulfill her professional obligations to both her patients and her constituents during the pandemic — a balance that has been challenging at times.

"I accept the Board’s decision that I could have done better," Hill wrote in a statement sent by text message.

The board received a complaint in March after someone cited a newspaper article in The Baltimore Sun about the lawmaker’s committee appearances from the operating room. The board opened an investigation later that month.

In April, Hill told a disciplinary panel that she attended two committee meetings by videoconference, once in February to testify for less than three minutes on a bill she was sponsoring and again in March. She said that before the surgeries, each patient "gave permission" for her to join the meetings.

In its findings of fact published on its website, the board cited records that show Hill performed major abdominal surgery on one of the patients in February— and that the patient’s preoperative consent forms do not document consent or notice about Hill participating in a legislative committee during surgery. The patient did not recall being asked about participating in a legislative committee meeting by videoconference, according to the board’s report.

"Patient 1 also said that it was a little discomforting that attention was taken away from her during the surgery," the board’s report said.

In a May interview with the board’s staff, Hill said she told the patient that there was a possibility she might have to "take a call" during surgery. When questioned about the patient’s inability to recall the conversation, Hill said that "there was a lot going on, getting the patient to the hospital, getting them to the OR. I’m sure she was nervous," the board’s report said.

In the March case, records cited by the board said the patient had major abdominal and back surgery — and the preoperative forms don’t document consent or notice. However, the patient reported to the board’s disciplinary panel that Hill told her about the committee meeting 10 minutes before surgery started and that she consented to Hill’s participation.