Evan Zimmer has been indicted for racketeering, arrested for drunk driving, and busted for soliciting a prostitute, after which he showed up in court while impaired.
He’s also a psychiatrist, licensed to this day to practice in South Florida.
In Florida, medical professionals hang onto their licenses and continue practicing as the state grapples with a lengthy disciplinary process that can take years, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).
On occasions when doctors do get suspended, as was Zimmer in February. 2012, it can be difficult to locate the disciplinary citation in public records.
Between 2010 and 2012, it took the Florida Board of Medicine an average 434 days to resolve charges of misconduct against doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, according to Florida Department of Health records.
Elsewhere, states complete similar investigations in significantly less time. In Texas, it took an average of 282 days to resolve a complaint in the third quarter of this year. In California, the rate was 264 days for its 2012 fiscal year.
The Florida Department of Health, which licenses medical professionals in the state, declined to make anyone available for this report.
The drawn-out process in Florida is due in part to decreased funding for the state’s health department, which still reels from a $55.6 million budget cut in 2011. The cut, some contend, resulted in overwhelming caseloads for lawyers investigating complaints.
Others say low pay at the health department has led to too much turnover. Pay for board of medicine attorneys ranges from $52,000 to the low six-figure range, according to state records.
“It’s a revolving door of lawyers there because they are paid so poorly,” said David Spicer, a Palm Beach County attorney who represents medical professionals in licensing and disciplinary disputes. “The public is at risk by this underfunding. It allows doctors to practice while their case is being looked into, when perhaps they shouldn’t be.”
Florida disciplinary actions between 2010 and 2012 include 55 suspensions, 30 revocations and 88 cases where a license was voluntarily surrendered, a review by the FCIR found.
Among the disciplined doctors was Zimmer, who was arrested in October 2010 for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. In November 2010, Zimmer pleaded no contest to the Miami charge and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He had already served time, having been jailed by a judge who was irked when he observed the doctor to be impaired in court. The state health department, which licenses doctors and had received “various allegations” of drug use against Zimmer, ordered him to appear on June 30, 2011, for a mental and physical exam. He skipped the appointment. It was rescheduled three weeks later, but he skipped that, too.
Zimmer did appear for a third appointment, at which time he submitted a hair sample, which tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Six month later, on Feb. 17, 2012, his license was suspended until such time as he “demonstrates the ability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety.” It has since been restored on a probationary basis.
It is the second time his license was pulled. The previous incident, in the 1980s, involved prescribing drugs to patients without proper documentation and, in some cases, without the proper examination.