Doctors lose license but still treating patients

Contact 5 Special Report

Doctors are dedicated to comforting the sick, aiding the diseased and saving lives.

While the majority of Florida doctors are abiding by the rules and dedicated to helping patients, the Contact 5 Investigators find a small minority who have been deemed too dangerous to practice in other states, are still licensed to treat patients in Florida.

"There's something wrong with the system," said Michael Hannon, a widower with a warning.  Michael's wife, Janet was 57 and preparing for her son's wedding when she decided to undergo a series of nip and tucks inside a Maryland clinic.  What was supposed to be a 6 hour procedure, lasted more than 10.  Two days later Michael found his wife, lifeless, in their living room.

"I went in to check on her and her body was ice cold.  I called 9-1-1, tried CPR, but she was gone," he said.

An administrative law judge in Maryland ruled Janet's surgeon, Dr. Oscar Ramirez, violated several medical rules during and after her procedure.

The Hannon family would later learn, five months before Janet's surgery, another patient in Maryland also died following a Ramirez procedure.

"Had appropriate action been followed then, my sons would still have their mother," said Hannon.

"Sometimes even now it's not real, you have to pinch yourself and say what happened," said Janet's son, Bryan.

Last summer, the Maryland health board finally revoked Oscar Ramirez's medical license for, "failing to meet the standards of quality medical care."

But, if you look up Oscar Ramirez in Florida.  You'll find a record that's clean, a license that's clear and a doctor still treating patients.

SEARCH THE DATABASE OF REPRIMANDED FLORIDA DOCTORS

The Contact 5 Investigators asked Dr. Zacharia Zacharia, a member of Florida's medical board, why patients should trust Dr. Ramirez in Florida.

"It's not a case where just because someone else has revoked their license, you just revoke them the next day," said Dr. Zacharia.

He says just because a doctor's license is revoked in one state, doesn't mean it's automatically taken away in another state.

"It has to go through due process," he said.  "Due process is fair to both the doctor and the patient.  You have to be fair to both sides."

Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist and former member of Florida's medical board, has been frustrated with the system for years. 

"If they're incompetent in Virginia, Delaware or New York, why would anyone think they're competent here," he said. 

Last year, while it took the state medical board an average of 72 days to issue a doctor a new license, it took them an average of 434 days to take a license away, according to the Florida Department of Health.

"Unfortunately, it's very difficult sometimes to revoke those licenses because of the legal opportunities they avail themselves of," explains Dr. Rosenberg.

Case in point, Mark Geier.  He was found misdiagnosing autistic children and treating them with a potent hormone-suppressing drug.  He's lost his medical license in at least four states, and in Florida he has a pending case, yet his license remains clear and active.

"Therein lies the problem, it can take 5 or 6 years for a case to progress," said Carol Gentry, editor of Health News Florida.  She's been covering Florida's Medical Board for 20 years.

"There are a few rogues who go from state to state or one place to another, or they get away with sloppiness or bad acts, like drug trafficking and they get away with it for years and they keep popping up!  I've written about the same people for as much as 20 years!"

 Remember, in Oscar Ramirez's case, it took Maryland 6 years after the deaths of two patients before his license was revoked. 

So where is he treating patients in South Florida?  At a cosmetic surgery center in Weston where the Contact 5 Investigators went undercover for a surgery consultation. 
 
We asked Dr. Ramirez if he thought he was a risk to the public practicing as a physician.

"I practice with the highest standard of care.  My surgery center (in Maryland) was a state of the art facility with all the safety issues for patients, so I wasn't, I don't believe I was a risk," said Ramirez.

Ramirez maintains his patient deaths in Maryland were not the result of his surgeries.  He recently lost his appeal in Maryland but plans to fight to maintain his license in Florida, where a complaint is pending; the question is for how long.

"No system is perfect but I think the system in Florida works very well," said Dr. Zacharia.

"All I can think of is suppose another woman walks into that center and ends up the same way my mom did and what happens to that family?  You can't roll the dice with people's lives," said Bryan Hannon.

According to Florida rules,

a doctor is required by law to self -report if they have been disciplined in another state.  A new Emergency Suspension Unit, has been created to stop doctors with questionable pasts from treating patients while their case moves through the system.

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