According to the Palm Beach Post, investigators with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and Broward County Sheriff’s Office arrived at a Pompano Beach pain clinic in 2012 to search for evidence of crime. Dr. Donald Willems, the osteopathic physician admitted to signing blank prescriptions for powerful painkillers such as oxycodone, admitted to letting a clinic manager fill them out, for patients he had not seen.
Eight criminal charges were leveled against Willems, including racketeering and illegally providing oxycodone. With those felony charges still pending, Willems was arrested again on December 21, 2016, named in a federal complaint alleging insurance fraud orchestrated by a local treatment center.
Anyone checking out his background on the Florida Department of Health’s consumer website would never have known it. The site listed the doctors’ license to practice as “clear and active.”
The DOH, which participated in the 2012 clinic raid, did not file formal disciplinary charges against Willems until January 2016, three years after criminal charges were filed.
The Health Department has previously faced criticism for extensive lags between the time a physician is arrested on drug-related charges and the time the state files a disciplinary charge that could result in sanctions, which include revoking a doctor’s license.
In some ways, quick action by the DOH is hindered by law. State law does not require that a doctor tell the department when he or she is arrested; only when there is a conviction. It can be years between an arrest and a trial.
According to DOH spokesman Brad Dalton, when law enforcement agencies tell the state an investigation is underway, “there are times when the department is asked to wait until a criminal case resolves … to protect the confidentiality of an active law enforcement investigation.”
The agency does not impose sanctions. After investigating, it may file a formal disciplinary charge — an administrative complaint — seeking disciplinary sanctions.
The burden of proof needed to justify such disciplinary charges is high, said Dalton. In a civil court suit, lawyers need to prove a “preponderance” of evidence to win their case, he points out. To prove a discipline case against a doctor, the state has to prove “clear and convincing” evidence.
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