Georgia gives OK to prison doctor despite sanctions in New York

When Dr. Yvon Nazaire moved from New York to Georgia, the medical board in his home state thought his practice should be closely supervised.

The New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct found that Nazaire had been negligent in his treatment of five emergency room patients at a Brooklyn hospital, some of whom had been discharged despite conditions that demanded extensive observation.

If he wanted to continue practicing medicine in New York, he would have to do it with a board-appointed physician checking on him at least once a month for the next three years, the board said.

But that order didn’t follow him to Georgia, where he quickly secured a job as a physician in a setting that often isn’t conducive to rigorous oversight — a state prison.

Just more than a year after the New York board issued its order, Nazaire obtained a license to practice medicine in Georgia without restriction. Seven months after that, he was hired as the medical director at Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville, one of the state’s four facilities for women.

Nazaire’s path eight years ago to becoming Pulaski’s medical director, a position he still holds, points to a significant lapse on the part of the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Officials with the board have long said that doctors facing sanctions in other states won’t be licensed in Georgia without first resolving those matters. However, that didn’t happen with Nazaire.

When asked for an explanation, the board’s executive director, LaSharn Hughes, declined comment.

“I wish there was something I could say,” she said. “I’m aware of (Nazaire), but I don’t have a comment.”

Dr. Jean Sumner, the board’s medical director, said there are times when the board allows physicians under sanction in other states to practice without restriction in Georgia, although those cases are rare.

“(The board) looks at every case independently,” she said. “But most of the time we do not take somebody who has an issue in another state until they clear up that issue first.”

Nazaire’s employment at Pulaski also raises questions about how Georgia Correctional Health Care, the division of Georgia Regents University that hires and supervises most prison doctors, scrutinizes job candidates.

Nazaire said he disclosed the New York order to the Georgia board when he applied for his license. He also disclosed it to Georgia Correctional Health Care when he was hired, he said.

“Of course, it’s something that is public,” he said.

Nazaire’s public profile on the Georgia board’s website does in fact list his New York probation.

But when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Dr. Billy Nichols, Georgia Correctional Health Care’s medical director, about Nazaire’s disciplinary history last month, he said he was unaware of it.

Nichols, who assumed his position in October 2012, said he doesn’t know how Nazaire was vetted when he was hired, but he acknowledged that the current procedure involves checking only candidates' Georgia licenses.

Efforts by the AJC to contact the physician who was the medical director at the time Nazaire was hired were unsuccessful.

Among the patients Nazaire inappropriately discharged were a man who complained of chest pain and a pregnant woman with abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, the New York board said.

A spokesman for the New York State Department of Health said Nazaire left the state in 2005 without completing the terms of his probation. Should the doctor return, he would again be required to comply, the spokesman said.

Nazaire, 58, told the AJC he was wrongfully accused. The only reason he didn’t contest the allegations, he said, was his attorney said it would require significant legal fees.

He acknowledged that the man he discharged with chest pains died 24 hours later, but he said the patient's vital signs were normal. “There was no clinical suspicion,” he said.

Nazaire, who was born and educated in Haiti, has been praised in his performance reviews at Pulaski, including one, prepared less than a year after he began the job, specifically noting that he requires little oversight.

“Dr. Nazaire doesn’t require close supervision as he is assisted by his nurse and … performs duties in the infirmary that would by other MDs be sent out to the hospital, thus keeping Pulaski below budget,” the review said.