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Doctor faces suspended license over patient relationship

ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg physician could soon see his license to practice medicine suspended indefinitely. A complaint against Dr. Richard D. Whitten, who has had privileges at St. Anthony's Hospital, alleges that the family practice physician engaged last year in a sexual relationship with a female patient.

Details of any disciplinary action by the state's Board of Medicine against Whitten, 44, have yet to be finalized. The board on Saturday rejected a settlement agreement between Whitten and the Department of Health, which lodged the complaint, instead submitting a counteroffer to both parties.

Before Saturday's hearing in Orlando, Whitten had agreed to submit to sanctions including a reprimand, paying a $10,000 fine, plus costs associated with the investigation, and a probationary period of up to five years.

On Saturday, the board amended the state's allegations against Whitten, who practiced family medicine, and the proposed disciplinary action.

In addition to the original charge that Whitten used his influence in a physician-patient relationship to engage in sexual activity, the board also alleged that Whitten violated another statute against physicians whose practices are impaired by their use of alcohol or other drugs.

According to the complaint, Whitten's trouble began in June 2010 when a patient he had been treating since February confessed she had developed "feelings" for him. This patient had been referred to Whitten following her attempted suicide and hospitalization for depression.

A sexual relationship began and continued until August 2010, when Whitten ended the relationship. The woman subsequently attempted suicide and was hospitalized under the Baker Act.

Under the counteroffer returned by the board, Whitten would pay the $10,000 fine and $4,612 in investigative and legal costs. He would not undergo probation, but the board would retain jurisdiction to impose conditioned terms of reinstatement, Department of Health spokeswoman Jennifer Hirst said.

Whitten's license would be suspended until the board reinstates it. Before that could happen, he would have to convince a peer network that he can practice with skill and safety to patients.

Whitten and the health department have seven days to decide whether they will accept the board's counteroffer. If the parties reject it, the case would go to a hearing before coming back to the board.

Neither Whitten nor his lawyer, Jon M. Pellett, could be reached for comment for this story. In an Oct. 28 letter to the Board of Medicine, Pellett said Whitten had withdrawn voluntarily from practicing medicine. Whitten was under a psychiatrist's care, Pellett wrote, and "will not be returning to practice for the foreseeable future."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Doctor faces suspended license over patient relationship 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 10:38pm]
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