Paul Heberle, D.O., is treating patients again.
Heberle is working part time as an emergency physician at Millcreek Community
Hospital, less than a year after an Erie County jury found him not guilty of 26
felony drug and Medicare fraud charges.
"I started working there about six weeks ago," said Heberle, 41. "It's not bad.
People were glad to see me. It was almost like I had never left."
Heberle has spent the past 11 months trying to resurrect his medical career.
The Pennsylvania Department of State suspended his medical license in August
2005, four months after federal and state drug agents raided his eastside Erie
medical office as part of an investigation into his narcotic-prescribing habits.
The probe was triggered by the January 2005 overdose death of one of Heberle's
patients, Lisa Stallard.
Heberle was later arrested and charged with illegally prescribing drugs and with
Medicare fraud. Heberle argued, successfully, that he was properly treating
chronic-pain patients with approved medications.
"I tried getting my license and (Drug Enforcement Agency) number (needed to
prescribe narcotics) back right after my acquittal," Heberle said. "But you
don't get them back as quickly as they can take them away."
Heberle finally regained his license and received a new DEA number in late 2006.
He started calling hospitals and health-care agencies, looking for work.
"I wasn't getting any calls back," Heberle said.
Then he talked with John Ferretti, D.O., Lake Erie College of Osteopathic
Medicine provost and former medical director at Millcreek Community, which are
both part of the Millcreek Health System.
"Dr. Ferretti told me that I was found not guilty and that's that," Heberle
said. "I got my job back."
Ferretti wasn't available for comment Wednesday but Millcreek Community
spokesman Pierre Bellicini said in a statement that Heberle deserved to work as
a doctor again.
"The community spoke when the jury acquitted Dr. Heberle and he deserves a
chance like any member of the community in the same situation who wants to
return to his or her job," Bellicini said.
Heberle is also trying to rebuild his finances.
He works about 20 hours a week in the ER.
He doesn't make enough money to pay back all his debt, he said.
Heberle estimates that he owes about $500,000, including nearly $250,000 in
student loans. He filed for bankruptcy protection in June but he still must
repay the student loans in full.
"I still don't know if we're going to lose our house," Heberle said, referring
to the Edinboro home he shares with his wife, Christine.
Heberle also doesn't know if he will work full time as a physician.
He is trained as a family physician, not an emergency physician, so he's not
sure if Millcreek Community or any other hospital would hire him as a full-time
"I can't go back into private practice because I don't have the money to pay my
own malpractice insurance," said Heberle, who paid about $36,000 for his
malpractice insurance in 2005.
He said he still thinks about his former chronic-pain patients.
"Nothing has changed for them, except that there are fewer doctors than ever who
are willing to prescribe the drugs they need to manage their pain," Heberle
"I can't do it," he added. "I can't take that chance again."
DAVID BRUCE can be reached at 870-1736 or by e-mail.