A performance audit of the Arizona Acupuncture Board of Examiners found multiple areas in need of improvement, including concerns with license renewals, record keeping and complaint resolution processes.
Dale Chapman, performance audit director at the state Auditor General’s Office, said the September audit report found “the board can improve in all three areas.”
The board was established in 1998 to regulate the practice of acupuncture in Arizona and ensure public safety and welfare. It maintains standards of practice through issuing licenses to certified applicants, managing complaint resolution and providing information to the public.
The board of nine state-appointed members oversees more than 600 licensed acupuncturists in Arizona — about 150 of them in the Tucson area. It receives no state general fund appropriations, relying on revenue from licensing and certification fees.
Auditors found the board’s “complaint resolution process is not adequately designed to protect the public.”
Board rules, but not state law, require the panel to dismiss complaints if they are not filed within 90 days of the alleged violations. This limits investigation of potential concerns to public safety, the report said.
Seven of the 10 complaints filed between 2012 and 2015 and reviewed by auditors were reported to the board 90 days after the violation date, and the board dismissed two of them based on the 90-day reporting rule.
The dismissed complaints indicated potentially dangerous practices: One described a patient having pain after receiving an acupuncture treatment, while the other claimed the patient fell ill as a result of the herbal supplements purchased from the acupuncturist.
The board also allows investigations to be withdrawn if the complaint is dropped. This increases the risk of certain licensees practicing unrestricted even if they are unfit to do so, the report said.
The report details inconsistencies with licensing approvals.
In some cases, the board issued license renewals without collecting all necessary information from applicants, including citizenship documentation and continuing education requirements.
In a random sample of nine licensees, the auditors found two had been renewed by the board without providing proof of completion for continuing education hours.
The audit also found incomplete documentation in application approval for new licenses.
A sample of new applications revealed two of nine applications were deemed complete before all necessary requirements were received by the board. One of the applicants had not provided verification of completion of a clean-needle technique course.
The auditor’s office will conduct an initial follow-up with the board in six months to assess its efforts at implementing their recommendations.
Pete Gonzalez, the acupuncture board executive director, said the board takes the report’s recommendations seriously and is working actively to initiate change.
“It’s always kind of a welcome sight to see the auditors come through, check from A to Z what the board’s doing, how it’s performing, how some areas may need improvement,” Gonzalez said.
While some recommendations laid out by the report will be easy to address, some will take more “discussion and thought,” including recommendations that require changing board rules. New e-licensing software for all regulatory boards in the state is also on the table to help address some of the concerns laid out by the audit, he said.
Adequate funds for software and training, as well as complicated rule-change processes, are among the biggest challenges ahead for Gonzalez and the board. Rules governing these licensees can be added to or changed only with permission from the governor, a procedure that can take some time to complete, Gonzalez said.
The board will put a plan of action into effect within the next couple of months, he said.
Jennifer Hijazi is a University of Arizona graduate student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at email@example.com