Board asks why CT didn't act sooner in doctor's disciplinary case
A state board that disciplines physicians is asking the Department of Public Health to explain why it didn't respond sooner to malpractice allegations filed against a doctor in another state.
Dr. Marvin Sponaugle is licensed to practice medicine in multiple states, including Connecticut. He reached a settlement with Florida’s Department of Health in 2022 after it accused him of medical malpractice in a pair of cases, including one in which a patient died.
Sponaugle's licensing records in Connecticut showed no record of that disciplinary history until after Connecticut Public posed questions about the missing information to the state.
Now officials are deciding whether to impose sanctions against Sponaugle in Connecticut.
Dr. Steven Wolf, a member of Connecticut’s Medical Examining Board, asked during a meeting Tuesday how Sponaugle's case "slipped through." Wolf requested that officials from DPH appear at the board's next meeting to describe what happened, and how they'll improve checking disciplinary records.
"Lying seems to be the norm nowadays," Wolf said, referring to omissions on license applications. "So I'd like to be able to ensure that we don't get caught with that."
The state requires doctors to report if they’ve gotten in trouble elsewhere as part of its licensing process.
When he first applied for a license in 2020, Sponaugle indicated on an electronic form he had no past discipline. But he should have disclosed he was facing an open case in Florida, a DPH representative told the board. He also failed to disclose the allegations in Florida when he renewed his license in Connecticut in April 2022, according to DPH.
States are also supposed to check a national data bank to track doctor discipline in other places.
After being contacted by Connecticut Public, DPH acknowledged in June it had failed to update some physician profiles. It said the task of automatically forwarding all out-of-state discipline reports to the unit that updates those records was “inadvertently lost in the mix of reassigning tasks following a series of staffing changes.”
“The Department has corrected that workflow issue so that going forward profiles will be updated in a timely fashion,” it said at the time. “At the same time, the Department is comparing past reports of out of state physician discipline with the information recorded in profiles and updating the information accordingly.”
Connecticut Public searched licensing records from more than 20 states, and found doctors eligible to practice in Connecticut who had their licenses suspended or revoked, signed consent orders and received public reprimands in other jurisdictions.
Among them: a Tennessee physician charged with illegally prescribing medication; a Virginia doctor who gave expired drugs to patients; and a teleradiologist who misinterpreted a 68-year-old woman’s CT scan. She later died.
Some matters dated back more than four years. And in each case, Connecticut’s online records showed those doctors had never been disciplined elsewhere.
Experts said omitting that disciplinary information leaves gaps for medical boards trying to assess each doctor’s professional history. It also hampers patients, who rely on official government records to make informed decisions about medical care.
Chairperson Kathryn Emmett said the board will formalize a request to DPH to appear at its next meeting to discuss its licensing process.
Board members also rejected a proposed consent order between Sponaugle and the state, after questioning why it didn't include additional sanctions.
The Florida Department of Health served Sponaugle with two administrative complaints in 2018 and 2021 alleging medical malpractice and, in the second case, failure to keep legible medical records justifying the course of treatment of one of his patients.
In that matter, a patient came to his facility, the Sponaugle Wellness Institute, in August 2016 for treatment of numerous symptoms, including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a condition that can cause dizziness and fatigue.
Sponaugle practices integrative medicine, which blends conventional therapies with safe alternatives. According to the Florida complaint, Sponaugle gave the woman numerous diagnoses, including “industrial toxicity,” excessive exposure to black mold and pancreatitis.
But Sponaugle failed to document clear reasoning for the diagnoses, the complaint alleges, despite the patient's complex symptoms and medical history, and crafted a treatment plan without documenting clear reasoning for how it would address her symptoms. The complaint also accuses Sponaugle of failing to reevaluate that plan when his patient’s symptoms didn't improve.
That patient later developed severe pancreatitis and died in a Florida hospital in November 2016, according to the complaint.
Sponaugle denies any liability in the patient's death. He did not respond to multiple requests from Connecticut Public for comment. During a hearing in October 2022 before the Florida Board of Medicine, his lawyer told authorities that the state’s allegations are “highly disputed.”
Connecticut Public's Kate Seltzer and Jim Haddadin contributed to this report.