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Medical board eyes criminal provision for sexual misconduct by physicians

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure voted unanimously Monday to address whether it wants to pursue legislation that would enable it to seek criminal charges for sexual abuse by physicians.

The teleconference session was called by board President Dr. Charles Miles on a request by Executive Director Dr. John Hall.

A committee hearing will be held Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at 1867 Crane Ridge Dr., Suite 200-B, Jackson to discuss the matter further.

Hall had said in an exclusive interview with the Mississippi Business Journal last month that he was pursuing legislation with lawmakers, including authority to seek criminal charges.

“I’m hoping to add this to the criminal code rather than the medical practice act,” Hall said in an interview with the Journal on Nov. 28.

» READ MORE: Taking aim at physician sex predators; Mississippi ranked 51st in patient protection

“As a felony penalty [it] would include permanent ineligibility for [Mississippi] medical licensure (something [the licensure board] could not do by current medical practice act or regulations), as well as possibly jail/prison time and perhaps some form of restitution.”

Hall’s statement was made coincidentally at the time that the Atlanta Journal-Consitution published a series of articles about physicians’ sexual abuse of patients.

It ranked Mississippi 51st in protecting patients from such abuse.

Miles said that the board already has authority to discipline physicians for sexual misconduct.

However, the board has no authority to pursue criminal activity against physicians for such abuse, Miles said.

“Dr. Hall would like guidance or directions from the board on this topic,” Miles said.

Dr. S. Randall Easterling said the board was in a “hurry-up position” to consider possible legislation for a complex issue. The Legislature convenes Jan. 3.

So he made a motion to take up the matter on Wednesday before the Rules and Regulations Committee. He was seconded by Dr. William D. McClendon.

Major Gen. Erik Hearon (Ret.) asked for a time limit to get the matter ready for possible legislation.

Miles said he was reluctant to put a time limit on it, given the complexity of the issue.

“If we’re going to pull ourselves off the bottom of the evaluation . . . before the deadline [for filing bills] in a little over a month, it’ll be a year and a month before we can do that,” Hearon said as a non-voting member of the Consumer Committee.

Another board member said, “I don’t think the Atlanta Journal-Constitution” series “should be taken as gospel.”

Hall, who also has a law degree, said in the earlier article in the Journal that “consent” by a patient is “impossible,” because of what he calls an “insurmountable power barrier.”

Allowing such abuse to continue is “as soul-crushing as the Boston Diocese,” Hall said of the scandal in which the Catholic hierarchy protected priests who had sexually abused children.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that “only 11 states have a law requiring medical authorities to report to police or a prosecutor when they suspect a sexual crime has been committed against an adult.” Mississippi is not one of those.

Hall, who became executive director about the first of July, said in yet another article that the board will do away with the $25 fee for going beyond a generic description of a board action against a physician such as “licensee executed an Agreed Order Not to Renew or Seek Reinstatement of his MS medical license.”

Consumer Reports in April ranked Mississippi’s medical licensure website last among 65 medical licensing boards in the nation.

The board started working toward improving the website before the Consumer Reports survey came out, according to Dr. Virginia Crawford, then interim director. Crawford said at the time that the matter of the fee was undecided.

Hall’s goal is to have the new website up by spring.

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