10 News Investigators and USA Today find bad docs not disciplined

7:36 PM, Aug 21, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Here's a statistic that might shock you: more than 98,000 Americans die every year because of medical errors.

You'd think that doctors and state regulators would want to get rid of problem doctors. But the 10 News Investigators found that some doctors keep practicing for years after problems are exposed.

And now an investigation by our colleagues at USA TODAY has found the problems with bad doctors beating the system may be even worse than we ever suspected. That is especially true right here in Florida.

For example, we have talked to several patients who have had bad experiences with various doctors, but asked us not to reveal their names.

One who had a bad reaction after a procedure with a Tampa doctor told us, "Had I not gone to the hospital when I did, I could have died."

Another says when she was examined by her physician, "He was feeling around my breasts all over."

And another told us. "I got an infection in the incisions from the liposuction."

They are three different patients talking about three different doctors.

But the 10 News Investigators found the same problem in each case: that the Florida Board of Medicine knew the doctors had problems, yet it still let them continue to practice medicine.

Gunwant Dhaliwal

Doctor Gunwant Dhaliwal was accused of fondling female patients inappropriately as far back as 1999. After we discovered several other victims of Dhaliwal's "hands-on" technique in 2007, the Department of Health said it would take action.

Back in 2007 Bob Garey told us "We take it very seriously and all we have to do is establish there was a doctor-patient relationship."

But it still took six more years before the doctor appeared before Florida's Board of Medicine. Some on the board wanted Dhaliwal stripped of his license.

Dr. Jason Rosenberg told his fellow board members, "He was convicted of a crime we consider heinous. We should revoke his license and nothing else is acceptable."

Doctor Dhaliwal lost a civil suit where the jury awarded more than $800,000 to one of his victims. He even spent time in jail, and is facing more criminal charges. But Dhaliwal's attorney told the Board of Medicine it was our stories -- not the doctor's own behavior -- that were the cause of his problems.

Instead of revoking Dhaliwal's license, the Board suspended him. He could be practicing again by the end of the year.

Rosenberg was outraged, "What are we telling the citizens of Florida? Your doctor fondles your breasts, gets deprived of his liberty after his day in court  and now we're going to go back and let him practice  wrong message!"

Bad liposuction

We also found that in some cases, doctors with previous problems in other states can still get licensed to practice in Florida. 

A patient of Dr. Yves Jean-Baptiste told us about her experience with liposuction: "I had leakage coming out of clothing so what they did was they started cutting the tissue. So they took very small wound and they basically became the size of my hand."

Jean-Baptiste voluntarily surrendered his licensed in New York, but still got a license to practice medicine in Florida only to be cited for negligence by the Florida Board of Medicine.

Attorney Dale Appell says, "Somebody should sit up and say, 'That's a bad apple doctor and we need to accelerate the process so he doesn't hurt anybody else in the public.'"

Lying about credentials?

It's not just patient care that's a problem. Take Doctor Richard Dellerson.  According to another Doctor, Scott Plantz, "He's testified in malpractice cases saying he is clinically active, when he last saw a patient in 2001. [He] lied about it for all those years and got away with it because  nobody looked it up, nobody checked."

Dellerson has lied about his credentials for more than a decade... but he says it is no big deal telling us, "We can go into this nitpicking stuff."

That's when we interrupted and told Dellerson, "Saying you're a member of the AMA when you're not is not  'nitpicking.'"

He responded, "I wasn't saying that, but at one time, I was." When pointed out other lies he told, Dellerson said to us, "You're getting rather confrontational."

Problems more widespread than believed

But now an exclusive USA TODAY investigation has proven these problems are even bigger than we may have suspected.

USA TODAY found that almost two thirds of the medical professionals in Florida who lose their privileges or run into problems with their hospital or HMOs are never disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine. 

In one year alone, USA TODAY found that 295 Florida doctors had problems with the hospitals or HMOs they worked at, but only 107 had any action taken against them. That means 188 doctors got off scot-free.

READ: USA Today's full report

In fact, a study by the watchdog group Public Citizen ranks Florida 42nd in taking serious disciplinary action against physicians. But the chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine, Dr. Zachariah Zachariah, says don't blame the board.

Zachariah contends, "It's like a judge. A judge cannot go chase a case, the prosecutors have to chase the case and bring it to the judge, and it is the same thing."

But former State Senator Mike Fasano doesn't buy that excuse.

Fasano says, "It really disappoints me that those individuals on that board  are not yelling and screaming out we need to be able to go after these bad doctors."

So while Florida is one of the 10 worst states for punishing doctors, state leaders don't seem to be making any strides to change their practices and put the bad doctors out of business.

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