A Pasco County internist accused of sexually touching women at his office will be suspended from practice for at least six months and must undergo a full psychiatric evaluation to determine his future.
Dr. Gunwalt Dhaliwal of New Port Richey agreed to the terms offered by the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday morning in Deerfield Beach after some members indicated they might otherwise seek to revoke his license or permanently block him from seeing female patients.
“This settlement keeps the public safe, and keeps women safe,” said board member Dr. Onelia Lage of Miami.
The Department of Health’s official charge against Dhaliwal, signed last September, was that he had been found guilty of a crime in the practice of medicine. A Pasco County court two years ago convicted him of battery after a female patient testified that he groped her breasts.
In another high-profile case, the Board revoked the license of Dr. Zannos Grekos of Naples, accused of causing the death of a patient while performing a controversial and unapproved stem-cell treatment.
After hearing evidence in that case, an administrative law judge had recommended the revocation. In a lengthy legal proceeding Friday, the board accepted that recommendation after rejecting numerous legal objections by Grekos’ attorney.
As for Dhaliwal, he lost a civil case involving accusations that he sexually groped a female job applicant, records show.
Allen Grossman, Dhaliwal’s attorney, argued that the event on which the doctor was convicted was “not a heinous crime; it’s a misdemeanor.”
“This board has case after case of physicians charged with sexual misconduct who are still practicing medicine,” Grossman said. The board crafts probationary agreements that guarantee a safe practice, he said.
But consumer member of the board Brigitte Goersch of Orlando said she would feel more comfortable suspending Dhaliwal until there was time for the state-approved PRN program – Professionals Resource Network, for impaired health practitioners – to do an evaluation and recommendation.
“I’m really concerned about the female patients,” Goersch said.
Whether Dhaliwal will be allowed to practice in the future will be up to the Board of Medicine, after hearing the recommendation from PRN. Should that happen, the board said, it will be necessary for him to have a female licensed health practitioner – such as a licensed practical nurse – present in the room when he examines female patients and sign a log to show she was there.
Judy Rivenbark, PRN medical director, said her program will conduct an evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychological testing, and polygraph (commonly called a “lie detector.”) The polygraph will be repeated over time if the physician is later allowed to return to practice on probation.
Asked whether her evaluations amount to a full guarantee of future safe behavior, Rivenbark said no.
“I am not any better predicter of the future than you are,” she told the board.
The settlement that the board offered and Dhaliwal accepted includes imposition of a reprimand, $10,000 fine, and indefinite suspension of at least six months pending the PRN evaluation. If the board later decides after hearing the recommendation that Dhaliwal can return to practice, he will be on probation.
In accepting the agreement, Dhaliwal makes no admission of wrongdoing. Grossman, his attorney, said the doctor had 160 letters of support from patients and civic leaders in Pasco County and has practiced there for 21 years.
Grossman said the Department of Health initially closed the complaint without action but reopened it after stories in the media resulted in “political pressure.”
“He continues to assert he did not do what he was accused of,” Grossman said.