The sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship is one that most state licensing boards seek to protect fiercely. Case in point: a Maryland doctor recently had his license temporarily suspended over a consensual sexual relationship with an employee whom he had also treated as a patient--even though he self-reported the relationship to the medical board.
According to reports, Walter Gianelle, who owns multiple Your Doc's In urgent care locations in Maryland, was found guilty in November by the Maryland Board of Physicians over "moral and unprofessional in the conduct of medicine based." Although records state that the doctor's relationship with the individual was "completely intertwined with both her medical care and her employment in his medical practice," the primary issue appears to be the fact that the two-year sexual relationship apparently occurred while the other party was a patient of Gianelle's. (A sexual relationship between a health care professional and their current patient is a severe violation of state regulations.)
Gianelle had contended that she had not been a "continuing patient" of his because urgent care doctors don't have ongoing patient relationships. However, the administrative law judge rejected this argument on the grounds that the individual had been diagnosed with a serious ongoing condition and had been treated by Gianelle at least six times, including both before the relationship began and after it ended.
The penalties assessed to Gianelle were as follows:
- A 30-day suspension of his medical license, after which he may apply for reinstatement;
- A probationary period of at least three years; and
- A $15,000 fine.
Why Didn't the Physician Lose His License?
In many cases, an inappropriate sexual relationship between doctor and patient would be grounds for permanent revocation of the doctor's license to practice. Of particular interest is the fact that, in this case, the Board's penalties were relatively lenient, allowing the doctor to resume practicing medicine in as little as 30 days. While we're not privy to the Board's deliberations, let's discuss what may have been some mitigating factors in this case:
- The physician self-reported the relationship, albeit after the fact. Gianelle reportedly acknowledged that their relationship had continued over a two-year period before it ended in 2017, although he denied that she was officially a "patient."
- Records note that Gianelli was cooperative with the Board throughout the investigation. Cooperating with the licensing board in disciplinary proceedings often goes a long way toward leniency.
- Gianelli had no prior history of misconduct. This may also have played a role in the Board's decision.
How a License Defense Attorney Can Help
An experienced professional license defense attorney can often negotiate with licensing boards and provide evidence of mitigating factors to reduce potential sanctions.
The issue of sexual relationships between doctors and patients is a serious one, and if you are accused of such (even if the allegations are false), the results could be career-ending without the help of an experienced attorney. If you're facing disciplinary action by a medical board in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team can help.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888-535-3686 to learn more.
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