FAKE M.D. PROBLEM GROWING, STATE OFFICIALS SAY
BuzzPermalink By RICHARD D. LYONS
Published: March 12, 1984
New York State officials in charge of an investigation of doctors' credentials say the problem is substantially larger than they had suspected.
The number of cases of doctors whose credentials are under ''priority investigation'' by the State Office of Professional Discipline has increased from the 60 of a week ago to 100 at week's end.
In addition, the State Office of Mental Health said it had increased the number of physicians whose professional credentials are to come under review from the 1,000 announced a week ago to 1,700.
The aim of these inquiries, as well as a Federal investigation and similar actions by the authorities in 15 other states, is to find people who have used fraudulently obtained medical degrees and medical school transcripts to enter training programs in hospitals, where they work as doctors, and eventually to obtain licenses to practice medicine on their own.
325 Cases in California
The credentials of several thousand doctors have come under review nationwide, according to Federal and state investigators. In California alone, investigations since early last year have turned up 325 physicians with suspicious credentials who have sought licenses to practice medicine. In Chicago, sources close to the Illinois investigation said the credentials of seven doctors had come into question in the last several weeks, including some who were licensed to practice.
A New York official knowledgeable about the state's investigations said more than 30 subpoenas have been sent to about 20 hospitals, mainly in the New York City area, seeking copies of credentials and other information from personnel records. Santo Domingo School
Many of the false credentials are known to have come from Universidad Centro de Estudios Tecnologicos, a medical school in the Dominican Republic. Officials of the Santo Domingo school, generally known as Universidad Cetec, have acknowledged that five members of its administration had taken part in a conspiracy that manufactured and sold fraudulent documents, most of them to Americans.
Since the first disclosures, Federal and state investigators have said privately that suspect documents have been traced to two other schools in the Dominican Republic, another school in the Caribbean, and several schools in Mexico. The identities of these institutions have not been made public.
Last week a score of doctors who attended medical schools in the Caribbean said in interviews that they had seen evidence that medical degrees were being awarded to people who had not done the required work.
''It was an open secret that people were not going to classes, yet being awarded degrees and getting transcripts,'' said Dr. Maria A. Gorelick, a Cetec graduate in Miami. Legitimate Graduates Hurt
Dr. George Douglas Hanley of New York City, who also went to Universidad Cetec, said that on graduation day two years ago, ''my friends and I looked around and saw a lot of people getting degrees whom we had never set eyes on before.''
A Cetec graduate in a residency program at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, who requested anonymity, said: ''The goings-on down there were scary. I'm glad an investigation is under way, even though I know it's not going to help my career. But the people who bought the degrees are taking jobs from the hard-working students and undermining the credibility of all of us.''
Dr. Andrea Itzkowitz, a resident at Kings County Hospital who attended Ross University, a medical school on the island of Dominica, said she had worked with ''kids from Cetec'' who were unqualified to work in hospitals.
''But disclosures about the problems there only serve to give the public the idea that anyone who goes to a Caribbean medical school is a fraud,'' she said, adding that ''many of us are good, solid, hard-working physicians.'' Mail-Fraud Conviction
The series of inquiries sprang from an investigation started a year ago by the Postal Service into the activities of Pedro de Mesones, a Peruvian living in Alexandria, Va., who has pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and conspiracy in the manufacture and sale of the fradulent credentials.
Mr. de Mesones, who is now serving a three-year sentence for mail fraud at the Federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., collected $1.5 million in a two-year period from 165 people who had solicited the documentation.
A Federal official said further indictments, involving charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, were likely. In New York, William L. Wood Jr., director of the Office of Professional Discipline of the state Department of Education, said his office had been ''deluged with tips from people offering information about doctors whose credentials might not be in order.''
''Our original focus on one medical school and 60 priority cases has expanded to a group of schools and 100 cases,'' Mr. Wood said, adding that ''this response leads me to believe that the problem will prove to be even larger than that'' Telephone 'Hot Line'
Yet his chief investigator, Daniel J. Kelleher, said the response of hospitals had been less than anticipated.
''We know for a fact that most of the doctors coming under suspicion are working in hospitals, yet much of the information we are developing is coming from sources outside of hospitals,'' Mr. Kelleher said. He urged hospital administrators and others with information about suspect credentials to call a special toll-free hot line at (800) 442-8106.
Based on the information developed by his office so far, Mr. Kelleher said he felt that ''by the time all the investigations are over we will have reviewed the credentials of every Cetec graduate in the country.''
People holding false fraudulent Cetec degrees have already been dismissed or suspended from Downstate, Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, North General Hospital, and the Middletown Psychiatric Center in Orange County. Several City Hospitals
The psychiatric hospitals are administered by the State Office of Mental Health, which has ordered an examination of the credentials of 200 physicians in its residency training programs after the discovery by authorities in the Middletown facility of three cases of fraudulent degrees there.
Robert Sporn, a spokesman for the mental health agency, said the credentials check would eventually expand to the 1,250 licensed doctors in the agency's facilities, as well as 250 other physicians working for the agency.
Among the institutions that have been the target of state subpoenas are several operated by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which has about 3,000 interns and residents in training at 15 institutions.
Thomas D. Ricke, the corporation's vice president for public affairs, said that in the last month the corporation ordered hospital personnel officers to focus on the credentials issue and that an overhaul of corporation policy on the issue was in the offing.
Mr. Ricke said the new procedures involve phoning the deans of the medical schools involved as a double check on credentials. He added that this may already have paid off in the case of a doctor serving at Harlem Hospital. Mr. Ricke said the doctor, upon finding out that his credentials had come under scrutiny, fled the hospital.