State seeks harsher penalty against Miami physician

Department of Health officials intend to appeal a final order by the state Board of Medicine, which in June voted to revoke a Miami physician’s license — then minutes later reversed its ruling and reduced the penalty.

08/22/2014 5:27 PM

08/22/2014 7:19 PM

In a rare move for the Florida Department of Health, agency officials say they intend to appeal a state Board of Medicine decision in the case of Miami physician Peter V. Choy — ordered in June to pay a $30,000 fine and serve a six-month suspension for falsifying a patient’s records after her death to conceal his misdiagnosis of her pancreatic cancer.

State officials filed a notice of appeal in July, but the document does not reveal a basis for the action. Pamela Crain, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said officials expect to file documents explaining the state’s legal argument by November.

Crain said it’s rare for the Department of Health, which works closely with the medical board, to appeal the board’s final orders.

“Prior to 2014, the department had not appealed a board decision regarding discipline of a license in the previous five years,” Crain said in a written statement.

The appeal will be heard by a state District Court of Appeal, taking the case out of the quasi-judicial arena of the Board of Medicine, which is responsible for the discipline of medical professionals, and into the Florida courts, which have the power to review final actions taken by state agencies.

The Board of Medicine’s final order in Choy’s case was unusual because the panel first voted to revoke his license, as recommended by an administrative judge — then minutes later rescinded its action, and reduced the penalty to a fine and temporary suspension.

Choy, 70, is currently serving the six-month suspension after the board found him guilty of making fraudulent representations, failing to keep proper medical records, committing medical malpractice and concealing material facts in the 2010 case of Teresita Garrido, 81, the patient with a pancreatic tumor.

Choy said in a written statement that he accepts the board’s final order, but he wouldn’t comment on the case because of the Department of Health’s appeal.

“I deeply regret the circumstances of my long-time patient,” he said in the statement, “and the impact that her death has had on her family and friends.”

Garrido died on Aug. 6, 2010 — two weeks after Choy informed her of the large, malignant mass that had first been revealed in a CT scan that Choy ordered more than two years earlier, in June 2008, after Garrido complained of pain near her abdomen and pelvis.

Garrido continued to see Choy as her primary care provider, and even though she visited his office five times between June 2008 and March 2010, Choy never made note of the tumor in her medical record, and he did not provide her with further evaluation or referral to a specialist, according to the Department of Health complaint initiated by Garrido’s son.

In October 2013, following a three-year investigation, Choy was charged with five counts of professional misconduct by the Department of Health.

At the board’s meeting in June, Choy admitted that he altered Garrido’s medical records out of “fear of a lawsuit at the end of my career,” and added that, “I still have over 8,000 patients.”

Jacinto Garrido, whose mother had been a patient of Choy’s for 11 years, said he’s pleased that the Department of Health is appealing the board’s ruling.

“The appeal is a great thing,” Garrido said. “I hope to see justice prevail, which is revocation, which is stopping Dr. Choy from doing the same thing he did to my mother to other vulnerable, elderly patients.”

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