The state is moving to rescind the licenses of 37 doctors and other health care workers under a new law that bans from their professions workers convicted of sex crimes or violent acts — even as the measure is challenged in court.
All told, 20 doctors, 11 nurses, five pharmacists and a dentist have been sent notices, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The state announced 22 revoked licenses, with another nine planned in the next week.
Of those 22 already announced, only six had active licenses. The rest were either on suspension or did not have their licenses renewed when they expired, records show. More revocations are expected as the agency reviews its records, spokeswoman Sue Hofer said.
Dr. Venkatesan Deenadayalu indicated he planned to fight revocation because he already has been punished by the state agency for his offense and has been following its restrictions, such as having a female assistant with him when treating females.
Deenadayalu, 65, was convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse and battery of a patient in his Downers Grove clinic after a 1999 incident. The state temporarily suspended his license, but he was allowed to resume practicing medicine in 2008.
He told a Tribune reporter that he treated patients Tuesday but stopped after learning about the revocation.
"This is not fair," he said. "I was already punished fully. … After 10 years, there has been no case against me since, and they treat me like this. I'm a law-abiding citizen."
Faced with similar revocations, five other health care professionals have filed lawsuits contesting the regulatory agency's application of the law. State courts issued three temporary restraining orders, effectively putting those revocations on hold until the cases can be argued.
The lawsuits question whether the state can retroactively strip licenses of doctors and health care workers who already were punished for their offenses.
The new law, crafted in response to a Tribune series on lax regulation of predatory doctors, took effect Sunday. It requires that regulators permanently revoke the medical licenses of health care workers convicted of sex crimes, forcible felonies or misdemeanor battery of a patient.
The legislation does not address whether the revocations should apply retroactively, but Hofer said the agency is following the law as written because it states that licenses should be rescinded if the holders "have ever been convicted."
Legal experts believe that the health care workers — many of whom were suspended for a period before receiving the state's permission to practice again — could have a legitimate argument.
Ronald Rotunda, an expert on the Illinois Constitution, said the state's application of the law raises serious questions about whether such punishment can be delivered retroactively. He suggested state lawmakers had created a "blunderbuss" law that "cuts with a meat ax, not a scalpel."
"It's imposing a punishment for an activity that was engaged in prior to the passage of the law," said Rotunda, now a constitutional law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. "The problem is punishing you for something that at the time did not merit that particular punishment."
Former prosecutor Doug Godfrey, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says the state has the power to change licensing laws for public safety. However, he suggested that the affected health care workers could make a compelling argument that the new regulation does not apply to their current licenses, though it could prohibit them from future renewals.
"If you take it away mid-license, then you're changing the rules in the middle of the game," Godfrey said. "They could argue that it's fundamentally unfair."
The affected doctors are receiving little sympathy from the legislators who backed the law.
"Tell them to cry and tell it to the judge," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. "As long as we can keep them away from people they could potentially harm, it is another day that we win. … This is the ultimate one strike and you're out. They shouldn't get three bites of an apple."
Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican and sponsor of the law, said nobody convicted of a sex offense at any time should be allowed to have a license.
"The state prohibits a sex offender from driving a school bus," Dillard said. "So why should we let a sex offender be a pediatrician?"
Dillard and Franks said the law was written so that it would apply to people who committed crimes in the past and already faced a different punishment.
"I stated during debate it is my intent never to have a convicted sex offender practice medicine in Illinois again," Dillard said. "There is a difference between double jeopardy in criminal law and a licensure proceeding with an Illinois department. ... Licensure is a privilege, and I do not want predator physicians preying on patients, period."
Even some health care workers who faced revocation this week considered the action fair.
Reached at his home in Long Grove, psychiatrist Gary Almy called his revocation "justified." He served more than three years in prison for sexually molesting three boys at a school operated in his Lake County house. He has not practiced since his February 2005 arrest, he said.
"There are a lot of strong feelings about sex offenders and doctors who violate that sacred trust," said Almy, 67. "In my situation, I think the state is justified. … I think it would be wise for someone like me to avoid that temptation. Like an alcoholic shouldn't hang out in a bar, I shouldn't hang out with young kids or be in a situation where they should trust me."
Former registered nurse Nancy Allen, 55, said she did not try to renew her license after spending 17 years in prison for aggravated criminal sexual assault and child pornography. The Chicago woman, who says she is on disability and looking for a job, was not surprised or angry when she learned about the permanent revocation.
"I knew once I got into the system that my license was gone," she said. "I would love to practice, but I know the stigma that goes along with my case. Consequently, who's going to want a nurse taking care of their loved one with my background?"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times