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Appeals Court upholds sanctions against doctor (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The state board that disciplines doctors correctly sanctioned a former University of Wisconsin Hospital physician who was accused of fondling female patients over a period of two years, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 4th District Court of Appeals said that the state Medical Examining Board properly sanctioned Dr. Frank Salvi in 2009. He was suspended for 90 days and required to undergo a mental evaluation and five years of supervision.

Four female patients accused Salvi of fondling them in 2004 and 2005, and he strongly denied the allegations.

Salvi’s attorney, Lester Pines, said Thursday that he disagreed with the decision and would be appealing to the state Supreme Court. Mike Berndt, the attorney for the medical board, had no comment on the ruling.

Salvi’s case has a long history.

After the complaints were first lodged, a peer review committee at UW Hospital conducted an investigation in 2006 and determined that Salvi engaged in some “unacceptable” non-medical touching of the patients’ legs, but all of the non-leg touching the women complained about was medically justified.

The committee essentially accepted Salvi’s version of what occurred and concluded that the women misinterpreted his actions because of his failure to adequately explain what he was doing, the appeals court noted in its ruling.

However, in 2007 the state’s Department of Regulation and Licensing charged Salvi with inappropriately touching patients. A hearing was held in 2008 and in 2009 the board issued its sanctions against Salvi, suspending his license and imposing the other limitations.

The appeals court said that the board determined Salvi touched intimate body parts of the four women with a sexual purpose, thereby engaging in prohibited sexual contact.

Salvi, who has defended his examinations of the women as appropriate and said they misinterpreted his actions, appealed. A Dane County circuit court last year reversed the board’s decision, saying that it had improperly excluded evidence and that its findings were not supported. The court also awarded more than $173,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to Salvi’s attorney.

But the appeals court, in upholding the board’s decision, said its findings were supported by the testimony given by the women. It noted that the four women did not know one another and were not aware of the other complaints when they filed theirs.

“There was no evidence that any of the women had any motive, apart from what they experienced during their visits with Dr. Salvi, to accuse him,” the appeals court wrote.

The court also determined that evidence was not improperly excluded. The appeals court further said Salvi was not entitled to be paid the attorneys’ fees and costs.

Salvi resigned in 2007 from UW Hospital, where he had worked as a pain and rehabilitation specialist for 16 years without any previous allegations of misconduct. He took a job at a Milwaukee Hospital, from which he was fired following the examining board’s 2009 decision, Pines said last year.

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