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Illinois Jail Doctor Leaves Trail of Medical Misery Across Several States

A doctor has been associated with the medical maltreatment of multiple jail prisoners across several states during close to two decades of practice. Some of the prisoners died. Yet Dr. Stephen Austin Cullinan of Peoria, Illinois still retains his medical license.

On August 14, 2012, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR) fined Cullinan for failing to properly treat a Macoupin County jail prisoner's fractured ankle, which ultimately resulted in loss of the leg.

In the summer of 2007, a seizure caused jail prisoner Jason Waggener to break his ankle and suffer a head wound. He was taken to an emergency room where the attending physician recommended that Waggener be seen by an orthopedist. Instead, Cullinan--who was employed by the Peoria-based Health Professionals, Limited (HPL)--a private provider of prisoner health care at over 100 Midwest jails, returned him to the jail.

During the next few days, Waggener became delusional. He removed his splint and walked about until he incurred a compound fracture that result d in the amputation of his leg.

Waggener filed a lawsuit against the county and Cullinan. In February 2011, the lawsuit was settled by Cullinan paying Waggener $130,000 and Macoupin County paying him $337,000. The media made much of a convicted SEX offender being paid so much in a settlement.

Receiving little attention in the mainstream media was the fact that Waggener was not Cullinan's first or last victim. In December 2007, a mere five months after Waggener's leg was amputated, Maurice Burris, a Sangamon County jail prisoner who was under Cullinan's care, died a slow and agonizing death due to a perforated ulcer. Cullinan had refused to send him to the hospital for treatment. The resulting lawsuit was settled with Cullinan paying $737,500 while the county settled its liability for $60,000.

After the Burris case was settled, Cullinan left HPL. But that didn't end his legacy of medical misery.

Michigan authorities fined Cullinan $10,000 in 2009 for withholding psychotropic drugs from mentally ill jail prisoners without consulting the prescribing physician. In 2010, when Cullinan was deposed in a federal lawsuit over a Wisconsin county jail prisoner with a history of heart disease who led after not receiving his medication, he could hardly remember his Michigan troubles and said that he had never had licensing problems in the dozen states which licensed him to practice medicine. But court documents showed that he had often been accused of providing substandard health care to prisoners. Wisconsin case ended in a $10 million verdict against the county.

Cullinan wasn't named as a defendant in the Wisconsin suit, which involved the death due to heart failure of John P. King after he was denied Xanax, medication he had been prescribed in large doses and which is known to have potentially fatal side effects when the dosage is reduced. Cullinan's actions in cutting off the Xanax without consulting the prescribing physician led a federal appellate judge to openly wonder why he had not been named a defendant and sued for malpractice.

"What Cullinan did does seem like pretty serious malpractice," said t appellate judge. "You have a drug where reducing the dosage can have serious side effects. You have a doctor that knows this fellow has a prescription from the veteran’s hospital and he cuts it down drastically. And he does this without calling the veterans hospital to ask why this fellow has this large prescription. That sounds really bad."

Dr. Cullinan continues to practice medicine. Partly to blame for this is the fact that the medical disciplinary procedures of the various state regulatory bodies are often shrouded in secrecy and the mandatory public disclosure of such information varies from state to state.

In theory, the regulatory bodies of the various states are supposed to be kept informed of medical disciplinary issues in other states by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSME). But the information can be faulty and the public is not allowed unfettered access to such disciplinary information., For instance, the public FSMB disciplinary report on the Waggener case, which costs $9.95, said that Cullinan Illinois fined and reprimanded Cullinan f r "conduct likely to deceive or defraud the public" when, in fact, Cullinan's failure to properly treat a prisoner's fractured ankle led to the loss of the leg and a $467,000 settlement.

Another is that medical boards like to be informal when disciplining doctors. For instance, the Waggener case was resolved in an "informal conference" during which Cullinan discussed his clinical practice and plans for a future with state regulators. UFO officials refuse to give greater' detail regarding that disciplinary process and note that malpractice settlements and deaths do not necessarily trigger discipline.

Even if they do trigger discipline, the state boards don't rush the process. The Waggener disciplinary case took five years to be resolved. The Burris case may take even longer. Meanwhile, Cullinan is free to continue to treat or mistreat prisoners as he sees fit.


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