U.S. Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, talks to the media Oct. 3 about Donald Trump's health after the president was hospitalized for coronavirus disease treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland.
U.S. Navy Commander Sean Conley, the White House physician, is accused of ignoring Navy guidelines on how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Ken Cedeno via Reuters

District of Columbia health officials say they have no authority to discipline President Trump’s physician, responding to a formal complaint from a Washington state activist.

The executive director of the D.C. Board of Medicine thanked Olympia’s Arthur West and said the panel “appreciates and respects” his concerns about Dr. Sean Conley, whose oversight of White House health has come under fire.

“But the board cannot address this matter as Dr. Conley is a federal employee and not licensed in the District,” said the D.C. official, Frank B. Meyers, in a letter Wednesday to West, a former Escondido resident. “Therefore, the board has no jurisdiction over Dr. Conley’s practice.”

D.C. Board of Medicine letter to Arthur West about complaint against Dr. Sean Conley (PDF)
D.C. Board of Medicine letter to Arthur West about complaint against Dr. Sean Conley (PDF)

Meyers directed West to the Maryland Board of Physicians, since Walter Reed hospital — where Trump was treated for COVID-19 — is in that neighboring state.

West, whose watchdog group WASHLITE sued Fox News and lost in court, said Thursday he’ll rewrite the complaint and send it to Virginia as well. Sean Patrick Conley, a 40-year-old doctor of osteopathy, has an active medical license in Virginia.

Joe Knickrehm, a spokesman for the Federation of State Medical Boards, says the state medical board in the state where a physician is licensed has the authority to take disciplinary action.

But since Conley is a Navy doctor, he may have to answer to Department of Defense superiors for any malfeasance.

West may pursue a complaint to the Navy as well.

“If [Conley] hasn’t followed the proper procedures under the Navy requirements, [military justice is] much harsher,” West said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if they’ll do it, but technically if you’re in the services they hold you to those procedures.”

West says Conley was negligent in his duties to follow Navy regulations on how to handle coronavirus.

The Navy set out its latest advice Sept. 20, echoing public health officials on testing, quarantining and hygiene.

In guidance for commanders, including shore-based units, the Navy said: “There is no substitute for command engagement to successfully prevent and mitigate COVID-19 within your unit.”

“You set the tone and must convey the importance of each sailor’s actions and personal responsibility to follow published health protection procedures both on and off duty,” said Vice Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, deputy chief of naval operations.

He urged cloth face coverings, social distancing, self-monitoring for illness and aggressive space cleaning — while informing commanders that more than 190 ships have at least one case of coronavirus.

“Mitigation measures has contained the incidence rate onboard to well less than 5%, allowing those ships to fight through and remain on mission,” Sawyer said. “The key enablers are strict compliance with personal protective equipment.”

West, who aims to make Conley accountable for the COVID outbreak at the White House, said via email: “Technically, as CEO and head of the Armed forces, Trump may be a member of the military, so the practice of medicine by a Navy doctor might be regulated by some form of Navy adjutant or admiral.”

But it’s unclear who Conley’s immediate superior is.

Cmdr. Denver Applehans, chief public affairs officer at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine in D.C., told Times of San Diego on Thursday: “Please contact the White House for more information about details regarding CDR Conley’s service as White House Physician.”