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Doctor accused of fondling gives up license

By Carol Gentry
10/2/2009 © Health News Florida 

A Bradenton woman who agreed to wear a wire into the office of the doctor she said sexually accosted her -- Bradenton internist Gangadhara Rao Chapalamadugu -- told the Board of Medicine today that Rao should go to jail, and board members agreed after seeing complaints from six other patients. 

But they couldn't send him to jail, so they did the most they could, they said, which was accept the "voluntary relinquishment" of his license in an agreement that rules out his ever seeking to practice in this state again. It also means the National Practitioners' Data Bank will be alerted in case he wants to set up practice in another state.

Mary Poole, the patient who alerted Bradenton Police to Rao's aggressive fondling and secretly recorded a conversation that led to his arrest in May, told the Board of Medicine she worries he won't get jail time. "I want the stiffest possible punishment you can give out to this man," she said at the board's meeting in Tampa.

Pensacola OB-GYN Lisa Tucker, a board member, agreed and said the best course of action for all concerned was to accept Rao's license. "I know a voluntary relinquishment sounds like nothing," she said, but by voting to take Rao's license, "he will stop today."

Tucker also commended Poole for her "bravery," saying she may have saved other patients from a similar experience. Poole said that as a CNA, a Certified Nursing Assistant, she had a responsibility to look out for patients, too.

After news of the arrest became public, six other women came forward to say Rao had forced himself on them, as well. Some said they endured it for months in order to get prescriptions for pain pills, according to a Department of Health investigative report.  Several said that when they objected to Rao’s behavior or brought a friend or husband into the examining room, he retaliated by withholding or cutting back their prescription order, according to the report.

One of Rao’s long-time patients said she didn’t report the abuse when it happened in January because she did not think anyone would believe her, since she had a history of bipolar disorder and depression.

One of the complaining patients said she once asked the two women who worked in Rao’s office why neither of them was in the room during exams of female patients. They said Rao told them it would violate the new federal privacy laws.

After Poole helped police obtain the recording, Rao was charged with criminal battery, a misdemeanor. He was released from jail on bond; charges are still pending.

But he could not practice medicine after Secretary of Health Ana Viamonte Ros issued an emergency suspension of his license in June. He signed the voluntary relinquishment papers on Aug. 14 rather than contest the administrative charges in a formal hearing, which is costly.

Florida law holds that it’s a violation of the medical practice act for a health professional to engage in sexual misconduct with a patient.