Board Considering Doc's Mental Health

Dec 5, 2014

A Clearwater internist who was described as unsafe to practice because of mental decline will try to persuade the Florida Board of Medicine that it isn’t true at a hearing today.

Dr. Harry S. Wilks, 72, is expected to appear at the meeting in St. Petersburg to answer questions, accompanied by his attorney Lester Perling.  They are armed with psychiatric and neurological evaluations that they say will refute those presented by the state.

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

The evaluations pro and con are in the Board of Medicine members’ materials, but have been removed from the case records available to the press and public. A few details, however, are contained in a four-year-old investigative report from the Department of Health.

The records say, among other things, that:

·         Wilks was asked to leave the staff at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater because of concerns that he was unable to practice safely, and that action was reported by the hospital in June 2010 to the Professionals Resource Network in Fernandina Beach. That network, usually known by its initials PRN, contracts with the state to evaluate and monitor physicians impaired by an addiction or a mental or physical illness.

·         After evaluating Wilks, University of Florida psychiatrist Martha Brown offered an opinion that he was probably suffering from “dementia.”  She said in the evaluation he appeared to have trouble with complex problem solving and other mental tasks.

·         The Florida CARES Program, a contracting agency that tests and evaluates doctors’ medical competence, said Wilks’ “knowledge level showed widespread, significant deficits.”

As long as physicians comply with PRN’s instructions and do whatever is necessary to be deemed safe to practice, their cases remain confidential. But if they defy PRN, the network notifies the Department of Health and DOH often issues an emergency suspension.  

In this case, DOH held off after psychiatric and neurological evaluations of Wilks suggested that the earlier opinions might be overstating Wilks’ problems. They offered the opinion that he was safe to practice.

Perling, Wilks’ attorney, told Health News Florida in a phone interview Thursday that Wilks stopped practicing for three months and then complied with PRN’s orders to work with a monitor but ran out of patience when the case dragged on for so long.

“He practiced without incident for four years,” Perling said. “He complied with every request. They were not reasonable.”

The attorney said the experts he and DOH consulted found no evidence of dementia – that in fact Wilks was functioning at or above normal. Perling said one expert who evaluated Wilks at the request of DOH denounced Brown’s reference to “dementia.”

Perling said the expert, Dr. Emily Lazarou, wrote that “making such a devastating diagnosis without ample supporting data is reckless.”

DOH prosecutors and Perling worked out a proposed settlement that would let Wilks keep practicing, on probation, with an indirect monitor reviewing some of his cases. The medical board can accept or reject it; often the board offers a counter-settlement.

Friday’s hearing of disciplinary cases begins at 8 a.m. at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon.

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Special Correspondent Carol Gentry at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.