Published in NorthJersey.com
By Jean Rimbach
A state review of how regulators handle allegations of sexual abuse by doctors is continuing, and more recommendations and policy changes are possible.
So far, initiatives detailed by Steve C. Lee, acting director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs, have included a tough approach to discipline, improving transparency, and making sure physicians whose licenses are restricted are complying with existing board orders and agreements.
“This is the kind of thing where we just want to get it right,” said Lee, whose began his inquiry in May. “Even as discipline is imposed or agreements are reached now, we’re looking at all those cases. We’re trying our best to make sure those dispositions and the decisions being made are appropriate but this is going to go on for some time.”
Health care advocates and lawmakers are heartened by recent actions but would like to see more incorporated by the state Board of Medical Examiners.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said Lee’s initiatives need to be memorialized as policy so they survive any leadership change. And she said a prohibition on gender bans — where doctors practice on one sex — should be among them.
“It’s so counterintuitive that you are allowed to practice but only on one gender and then how in the world that gets enforced is hardly clear,” said Weinberg. “There’s obviously something wrong and so you’ve cured it by saying he doesn’t get to practice on women?”
Lee said that “for a lot of reasons,” gender bans aren’t “ideal.”
“I think we want to make sure we keep it on the table,” he said, “but seek revocation whenever possible if allegations are proved.”
Weinberg, meanwhile, said allowing doctors convicted of sex crimes to practice needs a closer look. She said someone may “truly repent,” but “it would seem to me that medicine is not one of the privileges that you should be able to earn back.”
Patricia Kelmar, senior policy adviser for the New Jersey Healthcare Quality Institute, said her group hasn’t seen any policy changes that put information directly in the hands of consumers about restrictions placed on doctors. Information posted on the board’s website has holes, she said, and patients can’t be expected to research a doctor before each visit — especially if they’ve been to the office before.
“I’m sorry to say that website is not entirely reliable,” she said.
Kelmar said that when the board restricts a doctor’s license because it believes there’s a threat, a notification should be sent to current and new patients. It could be done by the doctor, or the patient list could be given to the board.
Lee, meanwhile, said he’ll take further actions when appropriate, as he did when he spoke to the board in July and made initial recommendations. Among the areas on his list is improving coordination with county prosecutors on sexual-abuse cases, ensuring “they understand what we need to proceed with disciplinary actions.”
“I think there are other things we’re going to do before the review is over,” he said. “It takes time to make reform, but we think were moving forward and we have a board that’s fully supportive.”
“Were trying to create a mechanism, trying to create a scheme, in which the doctor’s office is as safe as possible,” he added.
Read on NorthJersey.com here.