The latest complaint against Milwaukee psychiatrist Karl Strelnick to the state’s Medical Examining Board is the ninth allegation of wrongdoing brought against him since 1984, documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel show.
Strelnick, who was suspended without pay from his job at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex in August, is scheduled to appear before the County’s Personnel Review Board on Tuesday to try to get his job back.
The records, provided to the newspaper through a records request to the state, show for the first time the number of complaints against Strelnick to the state’s licensing board.
In handling those complaints, the board twice disciplined Strelnick, while the other earlier cases were dismissed.
In one of those cases, reported last month by the newspaper, state Department of Justice investigators felt a woman’s allegations that Strelnick repeatedly had sex with her while she was a patient at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex were credible.
However, the agency declined to pursue charges because they worried that the stress of testifying could lead her to commit suicide. They referred the matter to the Medical Examining Board, which cited similar witness issues in dismissing the case.
The most recent investigation, opened last month, relates to the case of a woman who became pregnant at the complex after having sex with another patient, despite orders from her guardian that she be placed on birth control shots.
The Journal Sentinel reported in August that complex officials did not notify the woman’s guardian for weeks of the pregnancy, while she remained on drugs known to be harmful to fetuses.
After the pregnancy was discovered, the patient was transferred to a ward overseen by Strelnick.
Following the newspaper’s investigation, Strelnick, 61, was suspended without pay from his job at the complex.
Strelnick and his lawyer have refused repeated requests for comment.
Strelnick was hired by the county in 1991, despite having had his license suspended for two years in 1987 after he admitted having sex with two patients while in private practice in Madison. Before that, he was reprimanded in 1984 after he was unable to provide proof that he took continuing medical education credits as he had claimed.
The newly obtained records show that four complaints against Strelnick – filed in 1988, 1989, 1997 and one from 2010 – were dismissed without an investigation. Two others, filed in 2006 and 2007, prompted investigations, but were without any action against Strelnick.
One of those involved the patient who claimed Strelnick had sex with her. The other involved the starvation death of Cindy Anczak, a patient of Strelnick’s at the complex.
The investigation begun last month remains open.
After Strelnick was hired by the county in 1991, Jon Gudeman, the former director of the Mental Health Complex, petitioned the licensing board six times for restrictions against Strelnick’s license to be removed. Ultimately they were.
After Gudeman left the county, he was appointed to the Medical Examining Board in 2003 by then-Gov. Jim Doyle. His term expired in July 2007. Gudeman did not vote on matters concerning Strelnick.
Gudeman told the Journal Sentinel he does not recall any matters involving Strelnick while he was on the board.
“Nothing at all,” Gudeman said.
Board records show action on the investigations opened in 2006 and 2007 came after Gudeman left the board.
Last month, the Journal Sentinel reported that records showed investigators for the state, unable to find enough evidence in 2007 to criminally charge Strelnick in the case where a patient alleged he had sex with her, thought there was enough information to refer the matter to the state licensing board.
“We gathered significant information in the case,” Thomas Storm, director of the state Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud Unit, said in an interview. “If we thought it was totally without merit, we wouldn’t waste their time.”
In that case, the patient said Strelnick had sex with her several times at the complex in 2002. She came forward in late 2006, after Journal Sentinel stories about the death of Anczak.
The patient who alleged Strelnick had sex with her had been charged with drunken driving for the fifth time and was sent to the complex after sheriff deputies worried that she would commit suicide. After she was convicted, she was transferred to Taycheedah Correctional Institute in 2002 and served nine years.
State Department of Justice investigators said they found her to be credible but worried the stress of making her testify could lead her to be suicidal.
Notes from the Medical Examining Board’s investigation, provided to the newspaper, show investigators came to a similar conclusion.
The board’s prosecuting attorney indicated there was a lack of independent evidence, so the case would turn largely on the witnesses’ credibility.
Because the woman had such an extensive criminal history, Jack Zweig, the board’s attorney, wrote “We would have no reasonable probability of meeting our burden of proof at a hearing.”
Another woman has come forward in recent months to say that she and Strelnick had sex regularly while she was a patient of his in Madison in the 1980s.
The woman, now a medical doctor in New York, filed a complaint against Strelnick with the Medical Examining Board. The board voted not to pursue action, saying Strelnick had been disciplined for his behavior during that era.
Those same board members, however, voted to open a new investigation of Strelnick’s handling of the pregnant patient’s case.
Complaints against Karl Strelnick
Here is a look at how the state Medical Examining Board has handled complaints against psychiatrist Karl Strelnick:
• 1984: Strelnick is reprimanded after he is unable to provide proof that he took continuing medical education credits as he had claimed.
• 1987: Strelnick’s medical license is suspended for two years after he admits having sex with two patients during therapy while he is in private practice in Madison.
• 1988: A complaint is filed alleging professional misconduct. The case is dismissed without an investigation.
• 1989: Another complaint is filed alleging professional misconduct. Again, it is dismissed without an investigation.
• 1997: A third complaint is filed alleging professional misconduct. It is dismissed without an investigation.
• 2006: The board opens an investigation after the Journal Sentinel reports the starvation death of Cindy Anczak, one of Strelnick’s patients. State investigators say Strelnick is negligent in the death, but so are other medical workers at the complex. The case is closed the following year with no action taken.
• 2007: An investigator for the state’s Department of Justice refers to the board the case of a woman who claims to have had sex with Strelnick at the complex. Strelnick denies the charge. The investigator says he finds the woman’s claims to be credible but he is worried that the stress of a trial would be dangerous to her health. The examining board closes the case without any action.
• 2010: A former patient of Strelnick’s, a medical doctor from New York, files a complaint saying that she had sex with Strelnick each week for more than three years while she was a patient of his in the early 1980s in Madison. The case is dismissed without an investigation because board members say he was disciplined for that same kind of behavior during the same time frame.
• 2010: The board opens a case related to the handling of a developmentally disabled woman who got pregnant at the complex after she had sex with another patient. A Journal-Sentinel investigation found the woman’s guardian had not been told about the pregnancy for weeks. After the pregnancy was discovered, she was transferred to a ward overseen by Strelnick.
Source: Meg Kissinger, “More Strelnick complaints surface,” Jornal-Sentinel, January 9, 2010.