Doctor: Medical board ‘overreacted’ in suspension

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of special reports by the I-Team and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about doctors accused of sexual misconduct. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s yearlong, 50-state analysis found medical boards in some states do little to inform or protect patients when doctors were found to have abused their power. Read the full national report here, and read the I-Team’s analysis of local doctors sanctioned by the Ohio Medical Board here.

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Dr. Charles H. Pierce said he thinks the Vermont medical board “overreacted” when it suspended his medical license in 1990 for having sexual contact with two of his patients.

“I was one of four, five or six physicians at the same time sort of caught in a net,” said the now 82-year-old doctor who said he still sees patients at urgent care clinics in Cincinnati. “I wasn’t the first, and mine (misconduct) was fairly minor. I’d have to say it was (former President) Bill Clinton type sex; there wasn’t really intercourse involved or anything.”

According to Pierce, his unethical sexual relationships began in the fall of 1985 when he had oral sex with a young female patient at a small family practice in Burlington, Vermont.

“At the time, I sensed she was coming on to me, and it just happened, but it shook me up,” he testified before the State Medical Board of Ohio during a hearing for a license to practice medicine in the state. “I knew it was wrong and, in fact, you know, apologized sort of afterwards and offered to find her another doctor.”

>>>RELATED: Series exposes flaws in policing sex abuse involving Ohio doctors

Pierce testified that the unidentified woman in her 20s or 30s declined his offer and remained his patient for the next three years “without anything ever happening after that.”

But only a month or two later, Pierce admitted he had sexual contact with another patient who he met outside the office but later came to visit him professionally.

“I guess I assumed that she wanted to get to know me better,” Pierce testified, admitting that he fondled the patient’s breasts when he went to visit her at her apartment.

In 1989, both patients sued Pierce for malpractice, with the second patient filing her complaint after the first complaint was made public through television and newspaper reports, Pierce testified. The Vermont medical board suspended his license soon after.

>>>EXCLUSIVE: Ohio doctors kept practicing after sexual misconduct

In the wake of his suspension, Pierce took a position with a clinical research organization in Montreal, Canada and continued to practice family medicine on a part-time basis in Quebec. He later moved to Nebraska and then to Cincinnati in 1999 to become chief operating officer of another clinical research facility that shut down shortly after his move, costing Pierce his job.

“When that closed down, I needed to have an income, so I wanted to practice,” said Pierce, who applied for and was granted a license to practice medicine and surgery in Ohio in 2001.

He said he applied for the license knowing the Ohio board had a reputation for being tough on doctor’s accused of misconduct, but he said he had hoped the age of his transgressions and the fact that he sought psychiatric counseling would allow the board to grant his license, which it did, noting Pierce’s misconduct was “remote and the doctor had completed interim remedial measures.”

“Ohio was very fair,” Pierce said. “At that point, it (misconduct) had been 20 years in the past…and I’m not so sure I would have ever gone down that path again.”

>>>NATIONAL REACTION: Change needed now

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