State Rep. Tricia Derges became the third member of the Missouri House with no committee assignments following her indictment on federal medical fraud charges.
The punishment was meted out to the freshman lawmaker quietly by House Republican leadership. There was no public statement about the decision, only notes in Monday’s House Journal that Speaker Rob Vescovo had taken the action to remove Derges from the Health and Mental Health Policy and the Professional Registration and Licensing standing committees and the Special Committee on Small Business.
Derges, R-Nixa, joins state Reps. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, and Rick Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, on the list of lawmakers with no committee assignments. Price was removed from his committees after the House voted to censure him for lying to the House Ethics Committee about his relationship with an intern. Roeber was told before the session began that he would not be given assignments because of allegations from his adult children that he sexually molested them as minors.
Whether she will also join them in being excluded from party caucus meetings remains uncertain. State Rep. Sara Walsh, an Ashland Republican and GOP Caucus Chair, referred questions to other members of the House leadership team. Majority Leader Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis County, was not available for comment.
There was no sign of Derges in the Capitol Building on Tuesday. Her office was empty and her legislative assistant directed reporters to her attorney, Stacie Bilyeu.
Derges, who is licensed as an assistant physician, was charged Monday with 20 federal felony counts. The indictment includes eight counts alleging she sold fake stem cell treatments, netting almost $200,000 from patients she injected with sterile amniotic fluid. The indictment also includes 10 counts alleging she improperly authorized prescriptions of oxycodone and adderall for patients she had not seen and two counts of lying to FBI agents.
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said at a news conference that the investigation of Derges began after she claimed in a television interview that she was beginning an FDA-approved trial of stem cell treatments for COVID-19.
The indictment involves patients at Derges’ Ozark Valley Medical Clinic, a for-profit medical practice with offices in Springfield, Ozark and Branson. Derges also founded a not-for-profit medical practice, Lift Up Someone Today, where charges are based on ability to pay.
In Facebook posts, Derges has portrayed the charges as retribution for good work she has done for patients.
In 2018, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks gave Derges its annual humanitarian award.
“I actually thought that I was making a difference,” she wrote in a post on Saturday. “What I didn’t account for was how much satan would fight back. He makes you doubt why you have done anything good.”
Derges holds a medical degree from the Caribbean Medical University in the Netherland Antilles and therefore can use the title “Doctor” and the degree identifying initials M.D. Under Missouri law, because the school is not “approved and accredited as reputable by the American Medical Association,” and because Derges did not serve a year of clinical residency after graduation, she is not eligible for licensure as a physician.
As an assistant physician, Derges can only practice in a collaborative arrangement with a fully licensed physician. She is registered with the DEA to prescribe medications but must have personally examined any patient that receives a prescription over her signature.
Derges was elected to her first term in November. As a lawmaker, the first bill she filed would, if passed, allow her to apply to become a fully licensed physician. Instead of a residency, it would allow assistant physicians to become licensed physicians after five years of practice and a passing grade on a national licensing test.
The second bill Derges filed would have allowed her and some other medical professionals to satisfy the requirements for continuing education by providing volunteer services at a not-for-profit organization.
The Missouri State Medical Association opposes both bills, said Jeff Howell, the group’s executive vice president. In the past, he said, Derges’ predecessor from the 140th District, Rep. Lynn Norris, filed the bill and Derges would testify in favor of it.
“We are opposed to the Derges bill” on licensing, Howell said. “We have been for years.”
Substituting volunteer work for training in new medical techniques or treatments is also a bad idea, he said.
“I think encouraging physicians to work in non-profits without compensation is a good thing,” Howell said. “I don’t think allowing it to count for all continuing medical education is the way to do it.”