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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)

January 12, 2011 Wednesday
Early Edition

Psychiatrist facing firing hearing retires | PATIENTS IN PERIL | A JOURNAL SENTINEL WATCHDOG UPDATE County suspended Strelnick after pregnancy at Mental Heath Complex

BYLINE: STEVE SCHULTZE and MEG KISSINGER, sschultze@journalsentinel.com Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)

SECTION: A News

LENGTH: 935 words

Controversial psychiatrist Karl Strelnick sidestepped a hearing Tuesday on whether he should be fired from the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex by retiring from the job he’s held since 1991.
Strelnick was hired by the county despite having admitted having sex with two of his patients in private practice. During his tenure, the state Medical Examining Board investigated his role in the starvation death of a patient and an allegation he had sex with a female patient at the complex.
The county moved to fire him in August after the Journal Sentinel revealed problems with the care of a developmentally disabled patient who became pregnant while at the complex.
Strelnick, 61, filed his retirement papers to officially leave his job as of the end of last year, said Molly Zillig, an assistant county corporation counsel.
His exact pension figures were not immediately available.
However, Strelnick was paid about $175,000 a year and worked for the county for 20 years, which would make him eligible for an annual pension of roughly $70,000.
Under a 2006 county Pension Board rule, a person’s pension cannot be denied unless he or she is convicted of a felony related to his or her job. That rule was adopted after a 2001 state Supreme Court ruling struck down the county’s old “bad boy” standard of denying pensions based on “fault or delinquency.” The county’s Personnel Review Board voted unanimously and without any discussion Tuesday to dismiss the county’s complaint against Strelnick seeking his firing.
That complaint has not been made public. If the board had held a hearing on the complaint, Strelnick would likely have been questioned about his role in patient care concerns and patient sex allegations against him.
Myron Anczak, the father of the Strelnick patient who died from complications of starvation and dehydration, said he was happy Strelnick was no longer employed by the county.
“But I’m very unhappy that he’ll be given his pension,” Anczak said. “He should have been canned a long time ago.” Anczak added: “Doctors take an oath to do no harm. That man has done more harm than good.” Neither Strelnick nor his lawyer, Lawrence Albrecht, responded to a request for comment.
Geri Lyday, interim director of the county’s mental health programs, said Strelnick’s patient load was being covered by other staff and part-time psychiatrists at the Mental Health Complex.
She said Strelnick would not be hired for any part-time or consulting work for the county.
Suspended in August Strelnick was suspended without pay and recommended for firing in August, days after the Journal Sentinel’s “Patients in Peril” investigation reported that a developmentally disabled patient became pregnant at the complex, despite orders from her guardian that she be placed on birth control. After the pregnancy was discovered, officials waited weeks before telling the patient’s guardian.
During that time, she was kept on three medications known to be harmful to fetuses.
The woman, who gave birth in April, was transferred to Strelnick’s ward after it was discovered she was pregnant.
Strelnick had a long professional history of controversy.
He was hired by the county 20 years ago despite having been disciplined by the state Medical Examining Board. Strelnick surrendered his license in 1987 after admitting that he had sex with two patients while working in private practice in Dane County.
In 2006, Anczak’s daughter Cindy Anczak, 33, of Greendale died after a stay at the county complex.
Investigators for the state Department of Justice conducted an independent review and found that Strelnick was negligent in the death, as were other medical professionals at the complex.
But they did not file criminal charges against Strelnick or anyone else, saying the problems were too widespread to be pinned on any particular person.
Strelnick also was the subject of seven other complaints reviewed by the state’s Medical Examining Board, including an allegation that he repeatedly had sex with a patient at the complex in 2002. That case was also the subject of a state Justice Department investigation. Investigators wrote that the woman’s complaints were credible but did not file charges against Strelnick because they feared she might attempt suicide if called to testify in court.
The Justice Department referred the matter to the state licensing board, which offered a similar explanation as to why it did not take action against his license.
The woman in that case Tuesday called Strelnick’s retirement without facing allegations of professional misconduct “a cop-out.” Allowing Strelnick to retire without facing accusations helped him “elude any consequences,” she said.
The newspaper is not naming the woman because she’s a presumed victim of sexual assault.
Under Wisconsin law, it’s a crime for psychiatrists to have sex with their patients.
County Supervisor Lynne De Bruin said she was glad Strelnick was gone from county government but would have preferred it if he could have been fired.
“I don’t think it’s going to be very satisfying to the patients he harmed,” De Bruin said.
Strelnick still faces potential disciplinary action by the Medical Examining Board on allegations of inadequate care of the pregnant patient in 2009 and 2010.
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“I’m very unhappy that he’ll be given his pension. He should have been canned a long time ago.” Myron Anczak, father of patient who died