In the state of New Jersey, a physician accused of a sex crime isn’t necessarily sent to prison or prohibited from practicing. The general practice is for the state to seek immediate license suspension. Then, if a doctor is found guilty, the state pushes for revocation or long-term suspension.
New Jersey doctor Leonard Joachim was originally convicted of a sex crime in 1995. Avoiding prison, the State Board of Medical Examiners allowed him to continue treating patients with a chaperone present after a two-year license probation. In 2003, evidently not following the board’s instructions, Joachim was accused of kissing a female patient while he placed her hand on his erect penis. He was put on a six-month probation. Still able to avoid prison and continue practicing, he was eventually accused of raping a patient in 2011. He pleaded guilty to unconsented oral sex and intercourse and his license was finally revoked. However, he is still able to seek reinstatement.
Even though Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino states that any medical licenses revoked since 2015 have not been reinstated, a recent study found five cases in the last two years in which physicians convicted crimes similar to Joachim’s avoided prison and were allowed to reapply within three to ten years. The study also found that at least seventeen doctors convicted of sex crimes are still able to perform their duties in the presence of chaperones.
The doctors discovered in the research study either engaged in unconsented sexual activity with patients or with their staff, or were convicted of possessing child pornography. While the state of New Jersey discontinued arrangements made for protection of convicted physicians’ identities in 2013, those who applied for this protection prior to 2013 are still receiving it.
One doctor, dermatologist Gangaram Ragi, was accused of sexual misconduct by twelve of his patients and yet his license was reinstated. He denied the charges and was barred from seeing female patients, but he was still able to see male patients. As long as Ragi stays out of trouble, he will continue as if nothing happened.
The Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, found that New Jersey is one of the ten worst states for disciplining physician offenders. “The duty of the medical board is to protect patients. But unfortunately, by not taking the proper actions against those physicians, they’re actually serving as a tool (to) serve their peers,” Azza AbuDagga, the group’s health services researcher said. “I don’t see the medical community is interested in solving that problem, from what we’re seeing so far.” To make matters worse, because patients who believe they were sexually assaulted by trusted medical personnel are often embarrassed and shocked by the experience, studies show only one in ten patients actually report an offense. So, many offending physicians continue to get away with their crimes.
A statement from the State Board of Medical Examiners’ President George Scott, read: “We share and reaffirm our commitment to ensure the board does everything to protect the public and to hold those who engage in sexual misconduct accountable for their actions.” Unfortunately, the data doesn’t match his sentiments.