Numerous doctors and other licensed medical staff working for the Oklahoma Corrections Department have less-than-spotless pasts, public records show.
Many former prison medical staff had checkered histories, as well.
The group includes doctors with long struggles with substance abuse, a physician assistant disciplined for writing fictitious prescriptions and a former high-ranking official who left the state after allegations of sexual harassment were made by three female employees.
Such medical professionals, those with checkered pasts, commonly work for state agencies such as the state Corrections Department, said Lyle Kelsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision.
“Sometimes, doctors that have been disciplined by the medical board and allowed to keep their medical license have a tough time finding employment,” Kelsey said. “Due to the discipline, physicians may also find they are unable to be included as network providers on insurance programs.”
Kelsey said these realities often force doctors and other medical staff to find jobs working for the government. Medical professionals with disciplinary records also work at the state Department of Veterans Affairs and medical facilities at Fort Sill, a federal installation.
Disciplined in the past
Several medical professionals currently employed by the state Corrections Department have been disciplined for substance abuse in the past — some of them multiple times.
Joel B. McCurdy, a medical doctor, is a regional supervising physician at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
McCurdy, who isn't the only doctor with a history of substance abuse at Joseph Harp, tested positive for alcohol at least five times in 2005 and 2006, according to a complaint filed by the licensure board.
The complaint shows that McCurdy was treated at a rehabilitation facility three times between 2001 and 2006. He lost his medical license in 2006 and didn't get it back until late 2009, when he began working for the state Corrections Department.
McCurdy remains on indefinite probation, according to board records.
Another medical doctor with an extensive history of substance abuse is Ross Lane Fisher, who also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2003.
Fisher, who is classified as a lead physician at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, was arrested a second time on a drunken driving complaint in 2005.
Fisher nearly lost his medical license in July 2006, but was instead placed on five years' probation. He successfully completed the probation in July 2011.
Joseph Balogh, also a medical doctor, has not been cited or disciplined by the state licensure board, but the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs took action against him in 2010 after he admitted to being addicted to drugs on an application to renew his narcotics registration with the bureau, documents show.
The order from the bureau shows that Balogh admitted in 2009 to being addicted to pain medications, and that he had been using cocaine “recreationally.”
Balogh, who works at Joseph Harp as a staff physician, also admitted to “diverting drugs of patients by requiring patients to bring all medications to an appointment, then taking ‘handfuls' of the drugs for himself,” the bureau order states.
“Additionally, he endeavored to obtain hydrocodone by getting prescriptions from multiple doctors at the hospital in which he worked.”
Balogh was fined $10,000 by the bureau and is currently practicing under five years' probation.
And not all of the medical staff with spotty backgrounds are doctors.
Wendall Miles, a longtime physician assistant in Oklahoma, had his license revoked in the late 1980s for writing fictitious prescriptions to himself.
According to the licensure board's database, Miles also was disciplined in 1996 for substance abuse issues, earning himself five years probation.
Miles completed his probation in 2001 and has not been cited since.
While reports of prison medical staff being disciplined have been rare, doctors have faced well-documented penalties while employed by the Corrections Department.
In 1993, a doctor who had left Michigan after his license was revoked in that state was fired by Oklahoma's prison system for similar reasons.
According to complaints by the state licensure board, Gail Williams, a medical doctor, was hired in 1990 to work as a psychiatrist. Within two years, he was already in serious violation of the agreement he made with the state licensure board.
In February 1993, Williams was suspended five days for “touching female subordinates in an unwelcome and unprofessional manner,” according to a disciplinary letter written by Robert Dille, the former director of the correction department's medical services.
Williams denied doing anything wrong.
“I didn't have sex or propose sex or womanize any of these people,” Williams said in 1993. “It was relatively trivial things that were part of everyday behavior by male and female workers.”
Williams lost his license in Michigan during the 1980s for having sex with a patient, lying about having sex with patients and billing improprieties.
He now has full medical licenses in Mississippi and Alabama and continues to work in corrections.
A medical professional must have something to offer to get another chance, which typically comes in the form of a restricted medical license, Kelsey said.
“The Department of Corrections, for example, actually determines whether a specific physician is a candidate for hire,” Kelsey said. “If a disciplined physician is hired by the DOC, it is not for the physician's rehabilitation but rather because the physician can provide a needed medical service for the prison system.”
Kelsey said doctors and other medical professionals who are granted conditional licenses are monitored, “regardless of where they work.”
According to board records, hundreds of doctors, physician assistants and other medical professionals have been disciplined over the years.
“As for the Department of Corrections, I can tell you that perception does not match reality,” Kelsey said, “in that physician jobs within the DOC are very good positions.”