Doctor sex misconduct cases monitored in secrecy

Illinois State Police Sex Offender Web site

Deenadayalu, who goes by the name Deen Venkatesan, turned to the program in January 2001 following his conviction for sexual abuse and battery of a patient, records show.

The conviction sprang from an incident at a Downers Grove clinic, but at the time of the court ruling, the doctor was in private practice. Because he was his own boss, Deenadayalu was free to continue seeing patients for nearly two years while the state regulatory agency and its medical disciplinary board decided how to respond.

Under the watch of the Illinois Professionals Health Program, Deenadayalu was evaluated by a fellow doctor who determined it was safe for him to continue his practice. The evaluator did not talk to the three former patients who alleged Deenadayalu sexually abused them nor to law enforcement officials, the records show.

The program instructed Deenadayalu to implement lessons from a boundaries course at Vanderbilt University, to take on a family physician as a role model and to have a chaperone when treating females, a requirement of his two-year criminal probation.

The program relied on assurances from Deenadayalu and his office manager that a chaperone was being used, records show. Testifying on behalf of Deenadayalu at a 2001 medical disciplinary hearing, Hoffman said she would speak with the doctor by phone once a month for as little as five minutes to ensure his compliance.

Goldberg, the medical prosecutor, asked her what the program's goal was in monitoring Deenadayalu.

"It's to help him continue to function in a healthy way," Hoffman replied. "The purpose in the monitoring is basically his adjustment to taking care of himself and also following — maintaining proper boundaries."

Goldberg asked how the program could guarantee Deenadayalu would implement the instructions.

"We can't guarantee," Hoffman said. "What we hope to do is with continued support and follow-up, to help him, I guess, to support him in facilitating following through with this, but as a guarantee, I can't guarantee anything."

State regulators suspended Deenadayalu's physician license in July 2002 even though Hoffman and Doot argued that he be allowed to continue practicing under the watch of their private program.

But when Deenadayalu reapplied for his license in 2006 and Doot again testified on his behalf, the regulators agreed it was safe for him to resume practicing. The state dismissed the medical prosecutor's claim that Deenadayalu "had failed to present sufficient evidence regarding his rehabilitation."

Deenadayalu, who now works for Physician Care Services, S.C., said he valued the monitoring he experienced through the private program.

"They talk to us in such a way that we understand the things, and how we can be, how we can change, what are the boundaries," he said in an interview. "They are more a teacher and a friend than anything else."

But critics say the program is set up to shield dangerous doctors.

"Why should we trust doctors to monitor each other?" said state Rep. Mary Flowers, D- Chicago.

The state's contract with the Illinois Professionals Health Program says the program shall maintain a committee with state officials to evaluate its operation and develop policies and positions on related issues. But no formal written policies and positions have come out of the committee, Hofer said. And there have been no public assessments of the program, she said.

The Federation of State Physician Health Programs has produced guidelines for the monitoring of substance-abuse cases but has no such guidelines for responding to sexual misconduct, said Dr. Peter Mansky, the group's president.

Many state programs have concluded that sexual misconduct cases are best handled in the public disciplinary process.

"Programs have tried to stay away from that," Mansky said. "We are supposed to be health- and wellness-oriented."

In a presentation to the federation, Philip Hemphill, an expert on treating physicians, said those with sexual misconduct violations require "360-degree" monitoring, involving anonymous reporting from patients, colleagues and administrators.

Some critics argue they shouldn't be allowed to continue practicing at all.

mtwohey@tribune.com