Former UF psychiatry professor gives up license
By Christopher Curry
July 21, 2014
Dr. Harold E. Smith also agreed to never reapply for a medical license in the state of Florida.
UF Health Shands Hospital hired Smith in July 2013 at an annual salary of $170,000. At the time, Smith faced an active state medical malpractice complaint for the December 2010 death of Alice Tomlinson, 51, at the Central Florida Behavioral Hospital in the Orlando area.
He already had faced two prior disciplinary actions in Florida, one for prescribing Oxycontin to family members without proper medical records and the other for relapsing into the use of crack cocaine and opioids. Because of drugs and alcohol issues, he’d also had his license to practice medicine suspended or revoked in multiple states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. The first of those disciplinary actions dates back to the 1980s.
In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency also revoked Smith’s certificate to prescribe controlled substances because he had submitted false information about prior disciplinary actions on multiple applications to the DEA.
The complaint that led Smith to give up his license to practice medicine in Florida stated that Smith continued to prescribe escalating doses of Oxycontin to Tomlinson while she was a patient at the hospital even after she showed significant, persistent physical signs of being “overly” sedated. She was found lying face down on the floor of her hospital room on Dec. 22, 2010, after apparently falling and was put back in her bed. Later that morning, she died after staff found her unresponsive in her hospital bed.
At UF, Smith was an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and treating patients with alcohol and drug addiction issues at the Florida Recovery Center.
He went on voluntary unpaid leave in December, days before a Board of Medicine hearing in the case involving Tomlinson’s death. He later resigned effective May 6, according to information from UF Health.
A copy of Smith’s application for the UF job indicated that he did pass a criminal background check conducted through HireRight, a background screening firm. A page in the application packet verified he had an active license to practice medicine in Florida and indicated that Smith had a disciplinary action on file with the Florida Department of Health.
UF Health officials have not commented on how much they knew about the prior professional actions against Smith or his issues with drug and alcohol dependency.
Smith could not be reached for comment via phone Monday afternoon.
Mac McLeod, a St. Augustine attorney representing Tomlinson’s husband in a medical malpractice suit against Smith, said he found it “shocking” UF would hire someone with Smith’s past disciplinary issues.
“I could see a guy who had a problem in the past and is reformed,” McLeod said. “We’re talking about a guy with a 25-year history of addiction and relapse and a history of disciplinary action in several states. The fact that a medical school as prestigious as the University of Florida would hire him is shocking.”
Tomlinson’s husband’s civil case against Smith is scheduled to go to trial in Orange County in 2015. He has already reached a confidential settlement with Central Florida Behavioral Hospital, McLeod said.