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Medical board stages revoke-a-thon

The Florida Board of Medicine, moving like greased lightning, put 14 doctors out of business in just six hours last Friday.

Department of Health officials said they don’t know whether it’s a record, but the one-day toll of revoked and relinquished licenses was unusual -- almost twice that of the board’s February meeting and more than three times as many as in April.

In two other cases involving accusations of sexual misconduct, board members tossed out settlements they viewed as too weak and told prosecutors to go after the doctors' licenses.

The glut of revocations followed Surgeon General Frank Farmer’s recent order to prosecutors to clean out the old cases they've been shuffling from desk to desk, year after year.

Farmer told the board at the outset of Friday’s meeting that he’s cut the delay in issuing emergency suspensions from five months to less than a month. He's closing in on his goal: 19 days.

“We are making progress in the things that matter,” he said.

His talk galvanized some board members. As Gainesville plastic surgeon Jason Rosenberg, the board’s vice chairman, said later, “The surgeon general said to be aggressive. I’m willing to take his advice.”

Whose licenses were revoked?

Among the doctors who lost their licenses Friday were three who had criminal convictions, but the others were ultimately ousted for failing to heed past orders to pay fines, perform community service, or show up for hearings.

“The board was taking a no-nonsense attitude,” said defense attorney Julie Gallagher of Tallahassee. “They sent a strong message: ‘If you don’t pay your fines and costs (of prosecution), we’ll revoke you.’ ”

When the board votes to revoke a license, it becomes final when the order is officially filed, usually within 10 days. However, sometimes the doctor appeals the case to the courts and is able to continue practicing pending the outcome.

The physicians whose licenses were revoked on Friday were:

--Jose A. Perez of Miami, convicted of grand theft in February 2003 for Medicare and Medicaid fraud committed between 1996 and 1998. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison. In 2008, the Board of Medicine ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine and pass a medical exam, but records show he never did.

--Algirdas Krisciunas of Broward County, convicted in October 2010 of illegal dispensing and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, an addictive painkiller. He was sentenced to about eight years in prison. A hearing officer found that the conviction was grounds for revoking his medical license; the board agreed.

--Albert R. Cioffi, who practices in Pompano Beach. Records indicate he pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor in January 2008 involving the purchase of an unapproved knockoff of Botox that turned out to be dangerous, although none of Cioffi's patients was harmed. The medical board ordered him to pay a fine of $10,000 and perform community service, but DOH said he failed to follow through.

--Lawrence Whitfield Miller of Savannah. The complaint against Miller was based on action in Georgia after he was accused of botching an abortion in a 15-year-old who was pregnant with twins, perforating the uterus. Georgia authorities fined him and required him to take courses; based on that, Florida filed a complaint. He did not respond, so the board revoked his license.

--Onochie Aghaegbuna of Victoria, British Columbia. Another state disciplined him for prescribing over the Internet, records show. He did not respond to a similar complaint from Florida.

--Delfin A. Biglete, formerly of Orlando. His current location is unknown.

The voluntary relinquishments

Frequently, physicians who face an administrative complaint agree to hand in their license rather than fight the charges at great legal expense.

Eight did so, including six Floridians: Herry Kijner Zaidman of Hollywood; Sherrard Hayes of Fort Pierce; Jerry Spiegel of Boynton Beach; Romulo A. Armas of St. Petersburg; Maria Gonzalez-Ruiz of Miami and Brian Patrick Davey of Okeechobee.

Two out-of-state doctors who turned in their licenses were Mazhar Rasul of Lexington, KY, and Roman Sorin of Brooklyn, NY.

To see the nature of the complaints that were pending, type in their names on the License Lookup screen on the DOH website.

2 more that the board seeks to revoke

The medical board asked prosecutors to go after the licenses of two doctors accused of sexual misconduct with patients.

DOH attorneys had been willing to settle the cases with fines and probation, saying it might be difficult to win revocation or even a term of suspension in a trial before an administrative law judge. Sexual misconduct cases often founder for lack of evidence or witnesses willing to testify.

But board members insisted that DOH make the effort, saying the settlements were simply not strong enough to protect the public.

“We have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct,” said board member Lisa Tucker, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Pensacola.

One of the doctors, board-certified internist Tulsibhai Pipalia of Tampa, was accused of asking a patient to perform oral sex on him in an examining room in July 2009. When she refused, according to the official complaint, he masturbated in front of her.

A misdemeanor criminal case was dismissed after Pipalia complied with pre-trial intervention. A settlement of the administrative case would have included a reprimand, $10,000 fine, 200 hours of community service and supervision by Professionals Resource Network, a program for troubled health professionals.

Out of the question, board members said. They discussed suspension, but discarded the idea after Pipalia testified that another patient had previously accused him of “fondling.” That complaint never became public; it was tossed out for lack of evidence.

“This doctor needs to go,” said Dr. Tucker. “Would you want him taking care of your family members? Then how could we let him loose on the citizens of the state?”

The board rejected the settlement and made a counter-offer to Pipalia that he accept revocation of his license – the only step it could legally take. That sort of offer is automatically rejected; either a much stiffer settlement is negotiated or the case goes to a formal hearing.

A similar result was reached in the case of James Albert Yelton Rossello, who worked as staff psychiatrist at the Hernando County Jail from November 2009 to August 2010. He was accused of inappropriately touching or making sexual propositions to four female inmates there.

In at least two cases, the inmates said they permitted caresses so they could get prescription drugs they wanted.

The proposed settlement would have let the doctor remain in practice, treating men only, but the board rejected that. “This is obviously a very serious case,” said Dr. Fred Bearison of Brandon.

--Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.