Dr. Ralph Napolitano

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Doctors pay a heavy price for sexual impropriety

The Medical Board takes sexual impropriety very seriously and pursues these cases with an urgency with the aim to send doctors a clear, stern message. The current minimum guideline for discipline is seven years’ probation and even an isolated mistake is enough to make the doctor an outcast with no insurance companies willing to refer patients or a hospital that will offer staff privileges.

A Camarillo family practice physician, Dr. Ralph Napolitano’s case is a classic example of the same. Napolitano’s license was placed on probation in 2005; he had a relationship with a patient that was described as consensual by investigators. The doctor participated in clothes-on sexual act in his Chevy Metro with his patient.

Following probation, the doctor was restricted from operating his own practice, he was rejected nearly 100 times even registries that find temporary positions for doctors. The doctor ended up working as an airport shuttle driver making $400 a week for two years. He finally managed to find a job as a doctor with a medical group that examines elderly patients in Los Angeles’ Koreatown community.

Napolitano, a former substance abuser has been clean for over seven years, and intends to become an addiction specialist.

The medical professionals are not the only ones feeling the fast-paced response of the Medical Board sexual complaints there are others too like Tina Minasian of Sacramento. She leads a group of patients who claim that they were injured by a plastic surgeon who was under the influence. She says that they filed a complaint two years ago, and the doctor responsible is still practicing while interim suspension orders are always passed for sexual misconduct complaints halting practice during investigation. Sexual misconduct supersedes death, and medical error. Medical mistakes cause as many as one hundred thousand people deaths each year and yet the doctors are not suspended added Tina.

Here are a few more cases of sexual misconduct by doctors.

Stuart Fischbein
He held her hand and called her “sweet pea,” while warning her about things moving too fast with her fiancée. It was just flirtation but became an affair that was twice consummated. Even before the relationship blossomed, or started to wilt with angry phone calls, lawsuit or criminal complaint there was just a problem, he was her doctor.

Till his conviction in June 13, 2006, Stuart Fischbein, was well-regarded Camarillo physician and a co-author of a book on fearless pregnancies. The Los Angeles Superior Court convicted him of a misdemeanor offense of sexually exploiting a patient. Had he been psychologist, a social worker or a respiratory therapist he would have to bid his practice goodbye, but Fischbein is an obstetrician-gynecologist.

The state’s Board of Psychology and the Board of Behavioral Sciences is rather strict and automatic revocation guidelines for the license of any therapist is the norm while the Medical Board of California lacks this.

The regulatory agency’s 15 state-appointed members have a tougher time handling controversial concepts like consent, rehabilitation and second chances.

In a ruling that became effective in October, Fischbein got a seven years’ probation. He continues his practice in Century City and at The Woman’s Place, a birth and midwifery center he started but a chaperone is present for examinations of women. he can ask for his license to be released from probation in two years.

Fischbein’s lawyer, Peter Osinoff, adds that the only mistake the doctor made the mistake of falling in love with a patient. he added that the probation is frightening healthcare insurance, it has affected hospital staff privileges and could jeopardize an entire practice.

Julie D’Angelo Fellmeth, a University of San Diego law professor who wrote a state-mandated assessment of the board’s enforcement program and demand even severe punishment and wants the board should revoke his license. She feels sex with patient ultimate abuse of power and it’s a crime, its unlawful and unethical; she compares Sexual misconduct as a mortal sin that any healthcare practitioner should just not do it.

The Medical Board handles 803 complaints of sexual misconduct over the past six years and has taken action in 123 cases. Leers to affairs and from molestation to assault everything falls in its range of complains

Dr. Shamim Amini
A Moorpark physician, Dr. Shamim Amini was arrested in July for suspicion of committing sexual battery on two women he examined at Simi Valley Hospital’s emergency room. while the district attorney is still considering pressing criminal charges, while the Medical Board has barred him from treating female patients.

Till date 78 doctors have lost /surrendered their licenses for sexual misconduct, with the board might terminate a doctor’s practice for any violation that includes force or more than one victim. Though 45 doctors disciplined kept their right to practice while most of them placed on long probations and a mere seven ended with only public reprimands.

Medical Board member Rudy Bermudez, said that peace officers who engage in domestic violence aren’t allowed to carry a gun and the same should be applied to physician who commits a sexual act with a patient should lose his or her license without a court hearing and shouldn’t get a chance to practice again.

Steve Altchuler, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a U.S. authority on patient-doctor relationships Says that the impact on patient is devastating, making the patient feels they’ve been taken advantage of by someone they’ve trusted and in the same level as abuse at the hands of a priest or a teacher.

Dr. Richard Fantozzi, a San Diego surgeon, president of Medical Board who says that the board has a ‘zero tolerance,’ considers sex with a patient as one of the worst acts any doctor can commit. though Fantozzi isn’t in favor of revoking the license of any doctor convicted in criminal court of sexual contact adds that isolated consensual incidents have to be treated differently and not wanting to take good doctors out of service.

A 2003 state law ensures automatic revocation to Repeat offenders or doctors who sexually exploit more than one victim. For doctors who haven’t been previously charged or face accusations involving one patient are allowed probation based on the board’s guidelines.

A sexual misconduct by either a psychologists and therapists have their licenses revoked by their boards. This is done to protect vulnerable.

Board spokeswoman Candis Cohen said that though board members have considered about automatic revocation but need to look at every case separately. Bermudez doesn’t but this argument and is curious why it’s a lesser crime when a gynecologist or any other medical doctor violate a patient than it is for a family therapist.

Differentiating between mitigating circumstances from manipulation forms the core of Fischbein’s story.

He was a 51-year-old doctor divorcee whose attempts to reconcile failed. His patient had a doctorate degree in psychology and was 14 years younger than him. She along with her fiancée came to Fischbein’s office in Century City because they wanted to have a baby.

The doctor-patient conversations ran from life to medicine. To remove a mass in her uterus, he performed surgery, at St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital and called her “sweet pea” in the recovery room. While testifying in a hearing he said that viewed her as not just a patient, but as a woman and had intimate talks by her bedside while she recovered.

S.K. said Fischbein convinced her that he would be a better father than her fiancée and persuaded her to leave him. They talked at length about the ethics of doctor-patient relationships and he told her he dated “bushels” of patients. though Fischbein denies the comment and any other relationship with a patient.

S.K. added that Fischbein advised her not to have sex for four to six weeks after surgery though he told the court that he didn’t remember the discussion.

She was released from the hospital after five days after and eight days after surgery, he called and asked to visit her at her home in Los Angeles and they had sex then and again two days later at Fischbein’s home. It was consensual according to his testimony. She considered him as a doctor who enabled her to have a baby by performing a surgery. To her he was “godlike” and interested in her. She said she would have done anything he asked and on hindsight wonders how she could have done this?

Defense lawyers say Consent is pillar in doctor-patient sex cases and very often does save a doctor’s license. Osinoff says that doctor getting involved with a patient like Dr. Fischbein did and a doctor who is a sexual predator are different things.

Altchuler, the Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, feels that doctor often dominate every aspect of a relationship, and there is an imbalance of power.

S.K. and her boyfriend are now married. He intercepting a text message from the doctor and found out about the relationship with Fischbein. He’s the one who went to the Medical Board and the investigators there recommended contacting the police as well.

Fischbein pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of sexual exploitation in the Los Angeles Superior Court. He has been sentenced to three years’ probation and community service including picking up trash in Hollywood and volunteering at a retirement home in Woodland Hills.

The Medical Board received a recommendation from an administrative law judge to place Fischbein’s license on five years’ probation but the board members opted for seven years.

with the probation comes higher malpractice payments and patients would reconsider their decision to consult with Fischbein as their doctor.

Osinoff says that Dr. Fischbein is not going to get involved with another patient given the fact that the doctor has been through far too to repeat the mistake.

Bermudez feels a harsher penalty would have been appropriate and the license should be automatically revoked and they should never be able to practice in their lifetime.

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