The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell have often written on the failure of state regulators to adequately discipline and remove from practice doctors who have committed ethical violations or engaged in dangerous conduct towards their patients. Today, we examine another facet of this pervasive problem: government regulators have no chance of taking action to stop dangerous doctors if they never learn of the dangerous or unethical conduct.
In theory, a wide network of “mandatory reporters” is legally obligated to inform the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (the state agency responsible for overseeing licensed physicians) of any unprofessional, unethical, or potentially dangerous conduct by a licensed physician, and any actual or potential violation of the rules governing physicians. This includes state agencies of all kinds, county prosecutors, insurance companies, and health care employers.
Once a mandatory reporter makes such a report, the Department can then take action, disciplining a physician, placing him under close supervision, or even suspending or revoking his rights.
In reality, our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers are sad to report that this is not what occurs. In fact, mandatory reporting rarely occurs. In all of 2009, only 348 such reports were filed. To put that number in perspective, there are over 45,000 doctors licensed in the state of Illinois.
And even when such reports are filed, there is often little or no response. In fact, in only one 2009 case did the Department actually revoke the license of the doctor in question. And even in those rarest of cases, when action is taken, the delay involved puts countless patients at risk. The Department itself admits that after a mandatory report, it often takes longer than a year for the department to impose any discipline.
Take, for example, the much-publicized case of psychiatrist Joel Carroll (a psychiatrist, unlike a psychologist or therapist, is a licensed physician). In April of 2009, a police officer was engaged in a routine building check when he discovered that Carroll’s office door was open. Inside, he found filth, guns, including assault rifles, grenades, cats roaming around, pornography and sex toys.
The Department eventually concluded that Carroll had violated the Illinois Medical Practice Act by, among other things, engaging in sexual misconduct with a patient. His license was suspended (although not revoked), and the Department pronounced him “a danger to his patients.”
Our medical malpractice attorneys are outraged – not that Carroll’s license was suspended, but that it took this long. Indeed, as far back as 2007, at least one mandatory reporter was aware that Carroll was a danger, but failed to file the required report with the Department.
At the time, in addition to his private practice Carroll was working as a contractor with the Illinois Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections’ records reveal that it then revoked his credentials and barred him from working in state prisons when he breached security and made inappropriate advances to and kissed a female inmate (promising to take her to Mexico).
But neither the Department of Corrections nor Wexford Health Sources (the contracting agency for the prisons, which fired Carroll after he was barred from working in Illinois prisons) made any report to the Department.
Thus, Carroll was allowed to continue endangering patients for two more years before any action was taken. This endangerment is not merely hypothetical. During the two years between 2007 and his suspension in 2009, Carroll continued his private practice, and even worked at centers for veterans. He concerned patients, staff, and pharmacists with his unkempt appearance and bizarre behaviors (including going shoeless, wearing only socks with holes). He treated mentally ill patients in an office filled with pornography and weapons. He hired as his receptionist a former patient with no medical training, convicted of drug crimes, and gave her presigned prescription forms to fill in and issue to patients in his absence, for substances including controlled substances. He then made unwelcome sexual advances towards her, even coming to her home on multiple occasions, forcing her to call the police.
And more importantly, he engaged in dangerous, stalking behavior towards at least one patient, who already suffered from anxiety and panic disorder, greatly worsening her existing conditions. He did everything from throwing rocks at her window to taking nude pictures of her while she slept, even masturbating in front of her and attempting to enter her home while she was in bed. He even threatened to have her committed. He came to her house more than 20 times.
If the mandatory reporting process had functioned, none of this could have occurred. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys cite this example to highlight the complete breakdown in supervision and mandatory reporting. We urge all the mandatory reporters in our state to begin taking this responsibility seriously. Future patients are counting on you.
For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.