St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Persistent sleuthing uncovers state flaw
February 6, 2005
By Robert Farley
Ken Kramer is a licensed private investigator in Florida and founder of PsychSearch.net, a clearinghouse of records and stories about psychiatrists in “hot water.”
In a second bedroom converted to an office, amid file cabinets filled with cases of psychiatric abuse, Ken Kramer banged away on his Hewlett-Packard, sending e-mail after e-mail to Tallahassee, late into the night, night after night.
His focus was the psychiatric profession. And after months of dogged persistence, his work finally paid dividends last month.
The state Department of Health admitted Kramer had uncovered an embarrassing flaw in its disciplinary system that may have spared hundreds of medical professionals from criminal prosecution.
Last week, state Health Secretary John O. Agwunobi announced more than 15,000 disciplinary cases investigated by the department since 1992 are being sent to prosecutors throughout the state to determine whether any criminal acts should be pursued.
This came after the Health Department’s inspector general found the agency had failed to refer to prosecutors cases in which doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health practitioners may have committed criminal acts. Such referrals are required by law.
It’s what Kramer had been telling them all along…
Like an investigative reporter, Kramer’s approach was methodical, and his purpose clear. He first assembled a list of all mental health professionals in Florida who had been disciplined administratively by the Department of Health. Then he requested those disciplinary files, one at a time to avoid copying charges.
On a $75 scanner, he copied hundreds of disciplinary actions and posted them to a Web site. Reading through them, he found numerous cases of psychiatrists having had sex with patients.
In many instances, the Department of Health suspended or revoked a doctor’s license. But did they face criminal charges as well? Florida law prohibits psychotherapists from having sexual relations with patients, even if consensual.
Kramer contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to see whether the cases he identified had been prosecuted.
“What cases?” he was asked.
“Jiminy Christmas, there it is,” Kramer thought.
Eventually, the inspector general’s office took notice and opened its own investigation.
The result was last week’s red-faced announcement by Agwunobi. Suddenly, Kramer’s efforts became statewide news…
“Clearly, we are grateful to Mr. Kramer for bringing this to our attention,” said Lindsay Hodges, spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
Bay area prosecutors said they are glad the Department of Health now will forward potential cases, but question why the department sent along stacks of old cases for which the statute of limitations has passed.
“There’s nothing we can do with this,’ said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe “It’s a senseless act to send it to us after the statute of limitations has run.”
Hillsborough prosecutor Michael Sinacore, chief of the sex offenders division, echoed that frustration, but credited Kramer.
“Clearly, he (Kramer) pointed out a provision in the law that was not being followed,” Sinacore said. “Bringing that to everyone’s attention, he has helped to serve justice. If he hadn’t caught it, who knows how long it might have gone on.”
Kramer also notched a second, recent victory, though its sweep wasn’t statewide. He spearheaded opposition to a pilot program proposed for Pinellas schools and aimed at reducing teen suicide. TeenScreen sought to have students fill out questionnaires to determine whether they were a suicide risk, then provide them with mental health treatment.
Kramer saw the program as a thinly veiled attempt to get more kids into the psychiatric system and on psychotropic drugs. That, he says, is the real cause of high rates of teen suicide.
Kramer encouraged friends to e-mail the School Board and argue against TeenScreen. Bombarded with more than 700 e-mails, the board voted 6-1 not to go with TeenScreen…
Kramer said he spent several thousand dollars of his own money investigating the Health Department’s handling of psychiatrists. With legislative leaders now promising a full investigation, he said, “I have confidence that the crimes of psychotherapists and others in Florida from here on out will be prosecuted.
“I have one message for criminal psychotherapists in this state. The Department of Health is now coming after you.”