In Illinois, Sex-Offending Doctors Continue Practicing With No Oversight

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Sex-offending doctors and health professionals in the state of Illinois have been allowed to continue practicing on probation, virtually unmonitored, according to a long-term investigation by the Chicago Tribune.

A Tribune reporter found that there were only three officials in the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s probation unit responsible for monitoring some 7,500 state-licensed individuals — spanning a variety of occupations, including health care and medicine — who have committed violations ranging from sexual misconduct to substance abuse.

Among that group, 1,098 are on probation — including 180 doctors and chiropractors — and none are routinely visited by a state official, the Tribune reports. In the case of health professionals, many continue to see patients and are left to self-monitor their behavior. The Tribune article begins with a revealing anecdote:

State regulators waited nearly six years after Timothy Johnson was convicted of battery of a teenage patient to place the chiropractor on professional probation.

Johnson, who allegedly fondled the girl in his office, is now required to have a chaperone with him while treating female patients. But because no one verifies his self-reported activities, he said, he could “take a drunk off the street” to serve in that role. Since June 2009, he has received one visit from a probation official at his practice in Troy, he said.

Johnson said the oversight is so lax he doesn’t know if he’s still on probation.

The same three state officials are also responsible for ensuring that the other 6,448 misbehaving professionals with revoked or suspended licenses do not practice illegally, including those whose licenses were revoked for sexual offenses. (More on How to Keep Surgeons From Leaving Things Behind).

Regarding physicians specifically, the Tribune reports:

The findings raise new questions about the way Illinois responds to sexual misconduct by doctors. The Tribune has uncovered cases in which medical professionals faced little or no sanctions in spite of allegations of serious misconduct and even criminal convictions.

John Goldberg, a former medical prosecutor for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said probation can work in substance-abuse cases, in which the offender must undergo regular drug testing, but is not suited for sex-offending medical professionals, especially those who work in private practice.

“I wouldn’t feel safe,” he said of patients who encounter such doctors.

The problem is that the Illinois agency’s probation system lumps doctors in with all other state-licensed professionals, like roofers, cosmeticians and locksmiths, the Tribune reports. In states such as Minnesota and California, by contrast, regulators monitor doctors separately from other professionals; at the Medical Board of California, for instance, 15 probation officers each manage a caseload of 25 to 50 physicians. (More on Why Do Black Patients Get Unwanted End-of-Life Care?).

Illinois’ Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said it does not track how many doctors are on probation for sex offenses.

A 2006 state audit revealed an organization in crisis: poorly kept records and insufficient staffing contributed to the conclusion that public safety was compromised. After the Tribune’s additional investigation, here’s hoping the state will concentrate some resources to ensure that dangerous doctors aren’t going about business as usual.

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