To see just how far Georgia regulators will go in forgiving medical doctors’ transgressions, look no further than the latest crop of returned licenses and restored privileges:
It includes an internist accused by four women of sexually inappropriate exams. A pain management doctor labeled by a board expert as a “drug dealer in a white coat” over his opioid prescriptions. A gynecologist who served prison time for Medicaid fraud.
“It does really beg the question of, what would a doctor have to do to not be reinstated? And what is the standard for professional conduct?” said Helen Robinson, director of advocacy for the YWCA of Greater Atlanta, who is pushing both the board and the state legislature to enact reforms.
The Composite Medical Board, charged with licensing and regulating Georgia doctors, releases a list of public orders every month. Its 16 members — 13 of whom are doctors — don’t explain their decisions to the public, and Georgia law bars them from discussing cases. Neither medical board Chairman J. Jeffrey Marshall nor Vice Chairman Ronnie Wallace returned calls last week from the AJC.
Past investigations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have documented the extraordinary deference the board gives to physicians, even those with histories of harming or jeopardizing patients. The list for August is a gallery of some.
“We have a very weak composite board,” malpractice attorney Susan Witt said. “The board is designed to protect consumers, but in reality they are protecting their own.”
The board has said it works to rehabilitate doctors when possible in a state where many rural areas suffer from a doctor shortage. Routinely, board orders require extra training. The board also places restrictions or demands on a doctor who has erred, such as requiring a chaperone, limited hours or supervision by another physician, reasoning that such limits keep patients safe.
Another doctor on this month’s list has a documented drug problem, but he got his license back with conditions. Yet another was accused of mixing romance and medicine, treating a woman despite being involved with her, and the board removed a condition that he work no more than 60 hours per week.
Here are some of the other doctors recently granted another chance.
Vincent K. Knight
The board’s 2012 order placing the Gwinnett County internist’s license on probation offered few details, other than that Knight faced “allegations of sexually inappropriate physical examinations” from four patients and that he admitted to engaging in sexual activity with other patients.
Four years later, Knight met an AJC reporter at Starbucks and laid it all on the table, as he saw it. At the time, the Emory-educated doctor was driving a Krispy Kreme truck and working part time for Walmart.
Knight told the AJC then that among his accusers were two patients at a Dacula clinic who said he inappropriately touched their breasts.
He insists that he had no sexual intent. But Knight said that after his divorce, he was “living crazy.” He also got in trouble for having sexual relationships with women he hadn’t formally discharged as patients.
“I realized that I had issues that I needed to address,” Knight told the AJC last week, speaking while still driving a Krispy Kreme truck.
The medical board required him to undergo therapy and use a chaperone with female patients, among other conditions. Then his career stalled, and the mark on his license limited his job opportunities.
Knight said he hopes to get back on track, now that the medical board has terminated his probation.
“The way I see myself and my relationships with patients has changed, especially with female patients,” he said. “And the dual relationships that I used to have, and the position that I used to put myself in — I’m not going to take those risks.”
Knight said he will also continue using chaperones when he sees female patients, and he’ll continue in therapy. He said he’s in several support groups.
“That, for me, has just been life building,” Knight said. “I’ve been able to not only work on my character flaws, but I’ve been able to help other men in the same areas with their character flaws.”
Harvey L. Leslie
Two years ago, the medical board stripped the Decatur pain management doctor of his ability to prescribe controlled substances, citing unprofessional conduct in his treatment of two women with apparent drug problems receiving prescriptions for opioids, other addictive narcotics and muscle relaxers.
At one point, Dr. Leslie had one of the women on 10 different medications, the state records show. A note in her file showed her family had called the office several times asking why she had so many prescriptions, reporting that she was crying constantly, wetting herself and acting out.
He had another woman on Lortab, Oxycontin, Soma and Xanax, according to the records. Drugs screens indicated she wasn’t taking her medications, but that she was using cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy and methadone — a sign that she may have been trading prescriptions for illegal drugs. The board found Leslie did little to nothing to address her apparent addiction, even stating at one point that he didn’t think she was abusing drugs, but rather “having fun with illicit drugs.”
A board expert who reviewed the case was blunt, describing Leslie as a “drug dealer in a white coat.”
Leslie did not respond to a reporter’s call about this story. In an interview with the AJC last year, he said he felt he could help the second patient by weaning her off strong narcotics and helping her eventually stop using cocaine. He also said he was treating the patient before the board passed detailed rules on pain management.
An administrative law judge said the doctor’s “actions reflect inadequate training rather than deliberate misconduct” and recommended he be banned indefinitely from prescribing controlled substances.
The board ordered Leslie to take a prescribing course through Mercer University. In January, the board partially lifted the restriction, allowing him to prescribe drugs that have a low potential for abuse.
Now the board has lifted the restrictions entirely.
Tyrone C. Malloy
A controversial abortion doctor, Malloy has blamed a “vicious conspiracy” by pro-life forces for derailing his career and sending him to state prison for 21 months on Medicaid fraud charges.
But as the AJC reported last week, his problems with the state medical board date back further, to cases in 2004 and 2009 where the board fined him in cases that involved patient deaths.
What finally cost him his license was a Medicaid fraud investigation launched by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. A DeKalb County jury found him guilty of fraudulently billing more than $386,000 for office visits related to elective abortions and for ultrasounds that he never performed.
For unclear reasons, the medical board didn’t revoke his license after the verdict. Malloy surrendered it more than a year into his prison sentence. In October, the board quietly reinstated his license without posting a public order on its website, as is typically done when a doctor’s license had been surrendered or revoked. This month, in response to what it says were numerous inquiries about how Malloy has an active license, the board issued a public order “clarifying” that the license has been reinstated.
He is back working in his old position as medical director at Old National Gynecology in College Park, according to the office’s website. He has declined comment.