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Doctor can treat women—if he posts warning signs

A West Palm Beach doctor accused of sexually abusing patients in the past must post warning signs in his office if he wants to start treating women again, the Florida Board of Medicine said Saturday.

Dr. Shaheed Kalloo will have to post signs in the lobby and exam rooms that say the Florida Board of Medicine requires him to be chaperoned by a female health-care licensee -- such as an LPN -- at all times when he is examining women patients.

Consumer board member Brigitte Goersch of Orlando came up with the compromise after the board’s legal advisor said Kalloo had fulfilled all the requirements to be allowed re-entry.

“”Some of you may not like it,” said Assistant Atty. Gen. Ed Tellechea, “but that’s the law.”

In other notable cases that came before the Board of Medicine on Friday and Saturday in Tampa, the board asked the Department of Health to investigate a Broward County gynecologist on suspicion of breaking abortion laws and revoked the licenses of three doctors accused of prescription-drug offenses.

Not even McDonald's?

Kalloo, a primary-care physician, had been allowed to treat only male patients since the June 2010 medical board meeting in which he was also reprimanded and fined. He was not to be allowed to treat women until he was cleared by the Professionals Resource Network, which contracts with the state to evaluate and monitor physicians who cannot practice safely on their own because of drug or alcohol use, mental or physical illness or a pattern of sexual abuse.

Kalloo was arrested in October 2006 based on a patient’s accusation that he had stroked her clitoris repeatedly while conducting a vaginal examination. After the sheriff’s office held a press conference about it, two other women reported having been sexually abused in Kalloo’s exams.

But with little evidence, the criminal case was reduced to one misdemeanor battery charge, which Kalloo settled by serving three months of house arrest, according to an account by The Palm Beach Post.

At the meeting Saturday, Kalloo’s attorney Alex Barker noted that his client had completed all the requirements set last year, including treatment by a specialist in Atlanta who is an expert in such cases.

Still, several board members said they weren’t comfortable that women patients were safe with Kalloo.

“You’re not even allowed to work at McDonald’s if you have done what this doctor did,” said Dr. Jason Rosenberg, a plastic surgeon from Gainesville.

The board pushed two representatives of PRN to attest that Kalloo could be trusted. Neither was willing to make any promises.

“No sane human being would (promise),” said board member Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, a cardiologist from Fort Lauderdale. “No one can know that.”

The compromise requires Kalloo to post signs – which will have to be state-approved in size and language – saying the Board of Medicine requires him to have a female licensed professional in the room while examining women. In the cases in which he was accused of wrongdoing, no other staff member had been present.

Goersch, who came up with the idea for the signs, said patients always end up waiting for doctors to come into the room. “You read whatever’s on the wall,” she said.

Kalloo agreed to post the signs.

Abortion on a 12-year-old

In another controversial case, a majority of board members refused to accept a negotiated settlement between DOH prosecutors and Broward gynecologist Michael Benjamin of Fort Lauderdale, who specializes in high-risk surgery, including late-term abortions.

Benjamin, 71, was accused of failing to alert child-abuse investigators about a case involving a 12-year-old developmentally disabled girl from Gainesville who was brought in by her mother for an abortion. A clinic in Gainesville referred the family to the Broward doctor after deciding the pregnancy was too far advanced to handle locally.

The physician said his measurements indicated the pregnancy was in the 24th week – the last point at which an elective abortion can be legally carried out.

Benjamin was charged only with failing to report the case to the Department of Children and Families’ child-abuse hotline, as the law requires when a girl under 16 becomes pregnant. In such cases, DCF is supposed to investigate to make sure the child is safe from sexual predators and has parental supervision.

Detective Drew Moore of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Special Victims Unit, who filed the complaint against Benjamin, told the board that a pediatrician in Gainesville later reported the case to DCF. Moore said the investigation led to charges of sexual assault against the mother’s boyfriend, who is now serving a 15-year prison term.

Moore said he filed the DOH complaint against Benjamin because the doctor’s failure to report the case delayed discovery of the abuse and allowed destruction of evidence that would have been helpful. Moore said he reported the case to Broward’s sheriff’s office, but no criminal charges against Benjamin were filed.

Benjamin and his attorney, David Spicer, said the mother had presented the situation as a case of consensual sex between the girl and a neighbor boy. The doctor told the board he had found no physical evidence of assault and the girl had gone along with the mother’s story when he talked with her alone.

“Basically, I was duped,” Benjamin said. “My judgment was in error. I feel for these girls. I don’t want to bring the heavy hand of the law down on these children …”

But Dr. Onelia Lage, a Miami pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, said the time Benjamin spent talking with the girl wasn’t really enough to win her confidence and bring out the truth.

“I pick up sexual assault and abuse (cases) every week, and five minutes isn’t (long enough),” she said.

DOH had negotiated a settlement that called for a reprimand and $8,000 fine, as well as a requirement to take some courses. But a majority of board members rejected the settlement; one, OB-GYN Lisa Tucker, asked DOH to look more closely at Benjamin’s practice, saying she suspected there might be “felonies” – an apparent reference to post-24-week abortions.

A majority voted to counter-offer with a suspension until a team of specialists could evaluate Benjamin’s practice. But such an evaluation could take six months or more to arrange because of a backlog, and Spicer said Benjamin rejected that idea on the spot.

“He believes another agenda is going on here,” Spicer said, later declining to elaborate. The case now moves to the Division of Administrative Hearings.

Pursuing pill-pushers

It was an unusually high-profile meeting, with 15 protesters picketing outside the Tampa hotel where the board began deliberations on Friday morning. They included a nurse, a pharmacist, and about a dozen friends and family members of patients who are addicted to prescription drugs or who have died because of addiction.

Some members of the board merely peeked out at the marchers, but at least one, consumer member Donald Mullins or Orlando, went out to talk. Members said they hoped to convey that they are just as concerned about prescription drug abuse as the picketers and are doing all they legally can to put physicians who are acting as drug pushers out of business.

The board accepted the voluntary relinquishment of Florida medical licenses from 15 doctors -- including some accused of over-prescribing -- who wanted to avoid the hassle and expense of fighting disciplinary charges.

In addition, the board revoked licenses of three physicians accused of violating prescription drug laws: Robert Eugene Boulier of Fort Walton Beach, Mladen Antolic of Orlando and Thomas Holland of Milton.

In May, according to Department of Health documents, Boulier was found guilty in federal court of 126 counts of illegal prescribing of controlled drugs and 17 counts of health-care fraud.

Antolic was arrested a year ago on charges of trafficking in cocaine and painkillers and accused of sexually abusing several female patients, as well as trading prescription drugs for sex.

Neither Boulier nor Antolic was at the hearing; DOH prosecutors said they were “incarcerated.”

However, Holland was able to attend his hearing, having received probation in return for a guilty plea to one count of illegal drug activity and agreeing to testify against others involved in three notorious Jacksonville-area pain clinics.

In an emergency order signed June 28 by Surgeon General Frank Farmer, Holland’s medical license was suspended. Holland asked the medical board to allow him to return to practice. Instead, the board unanimously voted for revocation.

 --Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Questions or comments should go to Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.