Skip to main content

San Diego Pediatrician Under Investigation For Allegedly Using Dirty Needles On Patients

Photo of Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Hillcrest taken June 27, 2019. Ins...

Credit: Photo by Kris Arciaga, Inset photo courtesy of Mono County Sheriff's Office

Above: Photo of Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Hillcrest taken June 27, 2019. Inset: Mug shot of Dr. Bret Gerber, who was arrested on August 24, 2013, by a Mono County Sheriff's deputy for possession of controlled substances during a traffic stop.

A San Diego pediatrician, who currently works at Mid-City Community Clinic in City Heights according to a supervisor, is under investigation for allegations that he used expired and unauthorized needles from a box that a medical assistant said contained dead insects and what appeared to be rodent droppings.

The incident allegedly happened in 2016 while Dr. Bret Gerber was working at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Hillcrest.

In a statement to KPBS, the Scripps Clinic in Hillcrest said: "When it was discovered that he had brought in non-standard needles from home, a full investigation and disciplinary actions were taken, which included removing him from patient care. Scripps also reported the issue to the California Medical Board. Affected patients who were identified were appropriately monitored after the incident, and no health issues were detected."

This was not the first time Gerber had issues with the California Medical Board.

He was also arrested in 2013 for possession of ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms during a traffic stop on his way to the Burning Man festival. According to documents from the California Medical Board, Gerber entered into a six-month diversion program that would allow him to keep a clean criminal record.

KPBS reached out to Gerber for comment but did not receive a response.

The incident did have an impact on his medical career. Gerber was investigated by the California Medical Board and placed on a two-year probation that required him to undergo random drug testing and to stay out of trouble.

Carolyn Olstad took her oldest son to Gerber from 2010 to 2012, before he was caught with the drugs.

When she found out he had been arrested for drug possession, "I was shocked because he always seemed super buttoned up, so it definitely changed my perception of him," she said.

She said she understands doctors can make mistakes in their personal lives, but when that behavior crosses into the doctor's office, she has a problem.

"If he wants to go out and party and stay out until 2 in the morning, that's totally up to him. If he's doing it and coming to see my baby, then I'm going to have a problem. If he seemed under the influence or anything like that, I would have brought it up," she said.

The drugs incident happened away from his office, but that's not true with the dirty needles.

A few years later after the Burning Man arrest, a medical assistant reported seeing Gerber use expired and unauthorized needles from a box that contained dead insects and what appeared to be rodent droppings. According to the assistant, he used them on a two and 10-year-old patient.

Disciplinary action against doctors is decided on a case by case basis, said Carlos Villatoro, a spokesman for the California Medical Board.

"Every disciplinary decision that the board makes is tailored around the facts of the case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for discipline," he said.

Video by Kris Arciaga

Once a quality of care complaint is made to the board, another physician in the same field of medicine as the accused doctor reviews all the submitted paperwork, Villatoro said. If they believe further investigation is needed, the case is forwarded to the Department of Consumer Affairs' Health Quality Investigation Unit. Then their sworn peace officers take over. If they find a doctor has violated the Medical Practice Act, they submit their conclusions to the California Attorney General.

From there, the accused doctor can enter into a settlement with the Attorney General's office or request a hearing.

There are no red lines in the process, and nothing a doctor can do that will automatically cause them to lose their license, Villatoro said. He added the Attorney General's office makes a recommendation to the California Medical Board on how a doctor will be professionally punished. Ultimately, the board has the final say.

Photo credit: Mono County Sheriff’s Office

Dr. Bret Gerber, who was arrested on August 24, 2013, by a Mono County Sheriff's deputy for possession of controlled substances during a traffic stop, is pictured in this mugshot, 2013.

"The board's discipline can be as severe as license revocation, however it can include probation and a public letter of reprimand," he said.

If through the course of the investigation, the Department of Consumer Affairs' peace officers believe a doctor has broken criminal law, they would contact the appropriate law enforcement agency to pursue criminal charges, he said.

Gerber, now off probation for the prior drugs offense, is being investigated again for the dirty needles through the medical board's process, but no conclusion has been reached yet.

While it's been years since Carolyn Olstad has taken her son to Gerber, the recent news has made her think a little more about how much research she should be doing before she chooses a doctor.

"You would expect that the medical community would have gotten rid of doctors that aren't any good, so you can trust that whenever you walk into a hospital that you would be cared for," she said.

While Villatoro said it's the California Medical Board's top priority to investigate any complaints and discipline doctors who violate the Medical Practice Act, there are ways you can look into your doctor, too.

The board has an app you can download that will notify you if your doctor's medical license has changed in any way.

You can also call 1 (800) 633-2322 to speak to representatives from the California Medical Board who can answer questions you have about your doctor's credentials.

You can also go to their website and search for your doctor to see if any disciplinary action has been taken against him or her.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

A San Diego pediatrician is under investigation for allegations that he used expired and unauthorized needles from a box that a medical assistant said contained dead insects and what appeared to be rodent droppings.

Aired: July 2, 2019 | Transcript

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.