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Judge sets emergency hearing for patients of jailed Kansas doctor

WICHITA, Kan. _ A federal judge on Monday set an emergency hearing on a motion by patients of jailed physician Stephen Schneider who claim they are having trouble seeking care from other doctors.

The hearing, which U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown scheduled for Friday, comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed Feb. 13 on behalf of Schneider's patients.

The lawsuit, filed by the New Mexico-based Pain Relief Network, claims the Justice Department has put patients in mortal danger and created a public health disaster by prosecuting the doctor. It names Attorney General Michael Mukasey, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren, the Department of Justice, the state of Kansas and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts as defendants.

Last month, the state suspended Schneider's license to practice, which forced him to close his Haysville clinic.

The lawsuit seeks an emergency order forcing the Board of Healing Arts to restore Schneider's medical license. It also seeks to restrain the Justice Department from "harassing" a new clinic to be opened under a different doctor at Schneider's now-shuttered facility.

The group wants an injunction against the Justice Department from taking any actions to impede its treatment of patients in severe pain.

In its court filing, the network told the judge that since the filing of the lawsuit, a number of patients are "dying for want of proper medication." The group contends that most patients have been unable to secure care from other physicians, and that those who have been able to find a doctor have not been able to get the standard of care needed for chronic pain.

Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wichita, said Monday that the Justice Department had no comment.

Schneider and his wife, nurse Linda Schneider, were indicted in December on federal charges including conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, health care fraud, illegal money transactions and money laundering.

Mark Stafford, attorney for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, said he would try to be helpful to the court on Friday so it understands the issue and the facts. He said he had just gotten the group's motion and had not yet had a chance to formulate an answer.

Siobhan Reynolds, president of the Pain Relief Network, said in an e-mailed response to The Associated Press that the judge's decision to hear the case this week was good news.

"I pray the judge gives the patients the relief we seek on their behalf," she said. "It would have been better if (he) had gone ahead and granted the temporary restraining order ... so many people are being damaged today, tomorrow and every day as long as the clinic stays closed."

The group's lawsuit contends the Board of Healing Arts and a Kansas district court ignored the danger to 1,000 medically vulnerable patients who must now find care elsewhere.

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On the Net:

Pain Relief Network: http://www.painreliefnetwork.org

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