Doctors in the dock, answering for misconduct

It’s been a tough summer. All kinds of miscreants have been hauled before Indiana authorities to answer for outrageous behavior.

We have sexual assault, drug trafficking, burglary, forgery, reckless driving, battery, invasion of privacy, furnishing alcohol to minors, fraud, unlawful distribution of controlled substance—whew, it goes on and on.

It’s the kind of thing you might hear on a Monday morning in arraignment court, which I did many years ago as a young crime reporter.

Oh, did I say all the offenders were physicians? That’s right, family practitioners, emergency room doctors, gynecologists, neurologists, you name it.

Doctors who have spent years in school, training and building a practice were summoned before the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, often to plead to keep their licenses, during meetings on June 23 and July 28.

I don’t normally get whole days to sit in all-day disciplinary hearings before licensing boards. So, to catch up, I spent a couple of hours reading summaries from meeting minutes, published on the board’s website. (The minutes of the Aug. 25 meeting haven’t been published yet.)

It was a hair-raising experience. For page after page, I read about doctors who had assaulted patients, gave drugs to friends and relatives, worked under the influence of alcohol, had improper relationships with patients, handed out pre-signed prescription pads to co-workers, and generally screwed up in every possible way.

I have to commend the licensing board and its secretary for publishing such complete minutes. These cases were recorded in some detail, unlike many of the short, clipped minutes you can find if you cover a zoning board.

And the board seemed to mean business. In the vast majority of cases, the board threw the book at the offender, suspending or revoking a license and levying a fine of several thousand dollars. (Remember that the offenders often have to answer to the criminal authorities as well.)

So without further dallying, let’s cut to a few cases:

— Dr. Lawrence Purcell, a urologist from Bluffton, told the board he wanted to reinstate his inactive license “so that he would be able to prescribe Viagra to members of an athletic club that he was a member of, and to be able to prescribe medicine to his family members and his pets.” Dr. Purcell had previously pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2008 and had refused to appear before the board in 2009 to explain the circumstances. The board denied his reinstatement application.

— Dr. Stephen Pfeifer, a family practice physician in Fishers, improperly continued to practice medicine after his license had been suspended for allowing a nurse practitioner to use his registration to write prescriptions, for using pre-signed prescriptions for use by others, for failing to supervise his nurse practitioner, for failing to keep records for family members he prescribed controlled substances to, and for alcohol abuse/dependency. The board extended his suspension for another year and fined him $1,000.

— Dr. Cortney Schwartz, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Fort Wayne, faced allegations that he had sexual relationships with three patients, failed to keep adequate records, failed to disclose the results of a pregnancy test and performed an invasive gynecological procedure without obtaining informed consent. The board accepted a settlement agreement calling for a license suspension for three years, a fine of $3,000 and a psychiatric evaluation.

— Dr. Mohamad Ghias Arar, a neurologist from Louisville (with a license in Indiana), who was convicted in Kentucky in 2015 of sexually abusing female patients, was called to appear before the Indiana board after he failed to respond to an earlier notice. “A response was received May 20 from someone representing themself as the respondent’s wife. Respondent is currently incarcerated,” the Indiana board noted. After some discussion, the board agreed to reschedule the licensing hearing after Dr. Arar was released from jail.

— Dr. Kurt Froehlich, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Loveland, Ohio (with a license also in Indiana), appeared after his Ohio license was revoked due to a sexual relationship with two patients and assaulting his medical assistant by groping her breast. The Indiana board placed his license on indefinite suspension.

— Dr. Joseph Galdun, a hospitalist from Indianapolis, was arrested after breaking into a neighbor’s house, armed with a sword. He was charged with burglary and attempted battery. Dr. Galdun told the board the strange break-in happened after he consumed alcohol and sleeping pills. He later started a program for chemical dependency at a treatment house. The board accepted a settlement offer to put his medical license on probation for at least three years and fined him $500.

Well, there's dozens more cases, but you get the idea. In white coats, doctors can heal, but they can also get into a lot of mischief. The licensing board's job is to make the mischief-makers accountable for their deeds.

Court dismissed.


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