In 2007, I also filed an independent complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS-OCR), alleging violation of my civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by the BME. Under pressure from both my civil suit and investigation by HHS-OCR in mid-2008, the BME voted to allow me to withdraw from the HPP in good standing.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 37 – No 12 – December 2018
I ultimately returned to full-time work as an emergency physician with an unrestricted medical license, despite the BME’s “correction” and certainly not because of it. However, the discrimination I experienced as a consequence of BME sanctions and publication of my private medical history continues to this day. I have been turned away by literally dozens of potential employers and credentialing bodies because I no longer have a “clean record.”
I had hoped that my legal actions against the BME and HPP could set a broader legal precedent to help protect physicians with mental illness from discrimination by state medical licensing board claims that illness equals impairment and that illness or impairment are sufficient causes for disciplinary action to “protect the public.” Ultimately, I have been successful only in retaining my own right to practice at a cost of more than $150,000 and 10 years of ongoing legal battles with board officials. In the process, I have learned that courts will generally defer to decisions by licensing agencies in cases where a physician has been labeled as allegedly “impaired,” even when those decisions violate the ADA and/or a physician’s right to due process of law and other constitutional rights.4
Not a Unique Experience
Unfortunately, my case is not that unique. Minnesota physician Steven H. Miles, MD, professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, experienced discrimination from his state licensing board in 1996 when he disclosed the diagnosis and treatment of his mental illness on a routine relicensing questionnaire.5 The Minnesota Medical Board subsequently demanded all of his psychiatrist’s medical notes and records and threatened both Dr. Miles and his psychiatrist with disciplinary action if they did not comply. Only after spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and obtaining assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice for protection of his rights under the ADA was Dr. Miles ultimately able to preserve both his health care privacy and his unrestricted medical license.
In 1998, New York physician Michael J. Hason, MD, was initially denied a California state medical license due to his self-disclosed history of mental illness (depression).6 After California refused to license him, New York reflexively revoked his license there.7 After considerable outcry from disability rights advocacy groups, he was eventually granted a probationary license in California, subsequently unrestricted, where he currently practices.