With the news full of stories about sexual misconduct, it’s worth mentioning the perpetrators who have hidden in plain sight – with the blessing of the Medical Board of California and the Legislature. These are doctors who are allowed to practice even after being found responsible for sexual misbehavior.
The state medical board has disciplined more than 450 doctors in recent years for crossing the line with patients. Surprisingly, board investigators are not required to notify law enforcement of a sexual assault complaint. They can quietly investigate without any warning to the public, and doctors usually stay on the job throughout the investigation, which usually takes about three years.
Some physicians do have their licenses revoked if the accusations are found to be true, but others are discreetly put on probation, ordered to take behavior classes and to have a chaperone in the examination room.
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But their patients are never told. They have to look up the doctors’ records themselves.
What is also surprising is that a license revocation is rarely permanent. Doctors can petition for reinstatement within a few years. At least three doctors found responsible for sexual misconduct have had their licenses reinstated, and two of the cases involved underage girls.
In one notable case, Dev Gnanadev, the current board president, sat on the panel that reinstated the license of a physician who had assaulted four women, including a minor. Records show that doctor, Hari Narayana Ma Reddy of Victorville, had also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery after being charged with felony sexual battery of the minor.
There was never an inquiry into Gnanadev sitting on the panel by either the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the medical board. An investigation is not likely now since the new consumer affairs director, Dean Grafilo, used to work for the California Medical Association, the doctors’ lobbying group of which Gnanadev is a former president.
In some cases, the medical board doesn’t bother to follow its own discipline guidelines for sexual misconduct cases, which say that physicians should get a minimum of seven years probation, even when the relationship is consensual. Last year, a physician was given just less than three years on probation for unwanted sexual contact with five female patients.
State legislators have been complicit in the protection of these doctors, due in part to strong-arming by the medical association. In 2016, lawmakers failed to pass Senate Bill 1033, which would have required doctors on probation for egregious cases to notify their patients. Just last summer, an effort to insert a similar requirement failed when legislators watered down the proposal so that only a handful of doctors would be covered.
Will there ever be a bill to protect patients from assault by doctors? Not if the current mindset persists. Until then, patients must look up their doctors on the medical board’s convoluted website before every single appointment. And if there is a problem, patients should go directly to the police.
Marian Hollingsworth, who lives near San Diego, is a volunteer advocate with the Patient Safety Action Committee and Consumers Union. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.