The story below was written by Dr. Gezel Saheli and submitted to us to draw attention to what she’s been going through. The words are hers aside from some grammatical corrections. Now it appears that the Medical Board of California is retaliating even further after she filed a lawsuit against the Board, by refusing to let her help during the Covid-19 pandemic, per Governor Newsom’s orders to allow more doctors not currently licensed to provide assistance. Because Dr. Saheli is licensed in 4 other states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia), she should be allowed to assist the citizens of this state during this terrible time. —TPSL
Gezel Saheli, MD, in her hometown, Los Angeles, CA, on February 21 2017, filed a lawsuit in superior court against White Memorial Hospital and her attending Dr. Juan C Barrio, on grounds of repeated negligence by her superiors at White Memorial Hospital in regards to her concerns regarding patient safety, violation of HIPPA by many colleagues at her facility of residency, and being subjected to unprofessional behavior by her program director Dr. Barrio. She also filed California medical board complaint against Dr. Leroy Reese MD and Dr. Barrio for patient safety concern , HIPPA violation , Medicare fraud , defamation and retaliation against whistleblower in March 2017.
In mid 2016, Dr. Saheli transitioned from her residency program in St. Michaels NJ to White Memorial internal medicine residency program, and was told to start immediately, with minimal orientation, as she was starting in the middle of a residency program. Shortly after start of her program and cursory and incomplete orientation conducted by her chief resident, Dr. Gezel Saheli noticed extensive HIPPA violations by her colleagues. Many important pieces of confidential patient information were being communicated among medical residents, interns, and attending via text message on personal cell phones. The text messages were rife with protected health information (“PHI”). They contained the patients’ name, diagnoses, and additional identifying information.
Dr. Saheli raised her concern in this regard to her chief resident and on many occasions, reminded her colleagues on the emphasis of importance of patient confidentiality and how the above behavior could easily put patient confidentially at stake. As a last resort, on July 26, 2016, Dr. Saheli met with Dr. Barrio, and apprised him of the pervasive and ongoing HIPAA violations that she had discovered during her first month at White Memorial hospital. Dr. Saheli informed Dr. Barrio that her colleagues regularly performed sign-outs via text message rather than in person, and as a result, these communications were not HIPAA compliant. She showed Dr. Barrio examples of such text messages from a few colleagues including his own HIPPA violation. But rather than agreeing to look into the issue, Dr. Barrio shouted at Dr. Saheli, and told her “you better worry about your own problems.” To the best of Dr. Saheli’s knowledge, Dr. Barrio did not take her claim seriously, and made no effort to investigate following this July 26 meeting. Dr. Saheli reported the HIPPA violations, lack of proper supervision and Dr. Barrio’s unprofessional manner to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education(ACGME) on 9-7-16.
In addition to her concern for patient confidentiality, Dr. Saheli raised several concerns regarding witnessed patient safety issues due to up-coding, the unnecessary dosing of narcotics and benzodiazepines to elderly patients, leading to unnecessary invasive procedures (such as intubation) by her colleagues at WMH. She was instead challenged on her interpersonal skills and her Persian accent at presentation, and verbal patient sign outs by her program director Dr. Barrio.
On July 9, 2016, Dr. Saheli participated in rounds with Dr. Barrio for the first time. Dr. Saheli was accompanied by her intern, Dr. Fu, a physician trained in the United States. While they were rounding, Dr. Barrio challenged Dr. Saheli’s decision to order a certain lab test. Dr. Saheli responded by saying that the test was necessary to both diagnose and manage the patient’s acute kidney injury, and she cited the universal guideline that supported her decision. According to Dr. Barrio, the test was unnecessary and expensive. Dr. Barrio proceeded to say “Where did you learn it from? East Coast? Iran?” Dr. Saheli was offended by the interaction.
To Dr. Saheli, Dr. Barrio’s remark was not only condescending, but it was also deeply disrespectful. It demonstrated his belief that she was an inferior resident because she was foreign-trained. Dr. Saheli also felt that his comment undermined her credibility in front of her intern, Dr. Fu, for whom she was responsible to guide and supervise.
At the outset, Dr. Saheli endured the repeated offensive and abusive conduct of Dr. Barrio, White Memorial’s Program Director, and Dr. Leroy Reese, a designated institutional official. Not only did Dr Barrio make derogatory comments about her race and national origin, he also committed unwanted unprofessional behavior toward Dr. Saheli during the first two months of her residency. After Dr. Saheli rebuffed his unprofessional behavior, Dr. Barrio then subjected her to even greater scrutiny as a resident, which only caused her to become even more alienated and ostracized from the residency program. In addition to engaging in discriminatory conduct, Dr. Barrio took to a pattern of defamatory campaigning against Dr. Saheli. Three unethical events occurred within the first ten weeks of her second year of residency. After Dr. Saheli refused Dr. Barrio’s unethical “advances,” he retaliated against her, and sought to ostracize her from the program with the ultimate goal of having Dr. Saheli either resign or be expelled from the program.
Dr. Saheli was further discriminated against and harassed on the basis of national origin in violation of the law. Both Dr. Barrio and Dr. Reese subjected Dr. Saheli to a hostile environment based on her national origin of being born in Iran by making insulting slurs concerning her nationality and intimating that Iranian medical training, research, and patient care is substantially inferior to training, research, and patient care in the United States. Although she reported this conduct to George Holtz of Human Resources and several members of the faculty, a meaningful investigation was never conducted. Instead, on March 2, 2017, Dr. Saheli was placed on paid leave of absence during the investigation of Dr. Barrio. However, White Memorial Hospital retaliated against her instead of investigating Dr. Barrio.
As a result of her criticism, Dr. Saheli was subjected to heightened scrutiny by her attending physicians and her co-residents. Dr. Barrio repeatedly threatened to terminate Dr. Saheli from the program for her whistle-blowing activities. In addition, a few of Dr. Saheli’s influenced interns were highly critical of her competency. Dr. Saheli was placed on a paid leave of absence pending termination, effective March 2, 2017. This recommendation for termination occurred within 4 months of Dr. Saheli raising concerns. Problems continued through at least through February 2017 after White Memorial Hospital was served with a State Employment complaint and a superior court lawsuit. These actions are sufficient evidence to raise suspicion that such a recommendation was the result of her complaints about patient care. However, Dr. Reese’s coordinator, a Ms. Gates, questioned Dr. Saheli’s safety as part of her lawsuit investigation, as the cause for paid leave, which was accepted by Dr. Saheli on March 2nd 2017.
Dr. Saheli has always had an outstanding status on her resume and has many references to support her vast knowledge of medicine, professionalism, advanced medical procedure performance, interpersonal skills and professionalism. Dr. Saheli was terminated in July 2017 in retaliation for having:
(1) reported HIPAA violations;
(2) reported unsafe patient care committed by the residents and interns she supervised;
(3) submitted complaints to ACGME;
(4) submitted a complaint of discrimination and harassment with the Fair Employment Administration for harassment, and gender and racial discrimination (Iranian-American); and
(5) filed a lawsuit against White Memorial Hospital and Dr. Barrio in the Superior Court of California.
White Memorial’s decision to terminate Dr. Saheli was clearly in violation of public policy because it was done in order to interfere with the exercise of Dr. Saheli’s statutory rights under Health and Safety Code.
Not only has she suffered economic loss and disadvantage post termination from the residency program, she has seen a therapist since May 2017, who has diagnosed her with PTSD and acute stress, and suffers from sleep disturbances as a result of the trauma she endured at the hands of Dr. Barrio. She was further unable to find placement in residency program in Los Angeles and moved to New Jersey in July 2017 to complete her training in Rutgers University, having to leave her family for 3 years. She’s had outstanding performance evaluations at Rutgers University and got her License in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2019 despite continued retaliation and forgery by Dr. Barrio, Dr. Reese and Ms. Gates in the post graduate training verification for licensing process. Dr. Saheli is a license physician with Veteran Health Affairs and has been committed to veteran’s care for the past 3 years.
In February 2020, Dr. Saheli was denied a license to practice in California by the Medical Board of California (MBC) she believes due to the retaliation against her other complaints against well-connected doctors. Dr. Barrio and Dr. Reese, for patient safety, Medicare fraud (up-coding), HIPPA violation and unprofessional behavior. MBC changed their retaliated report to National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) three times with four different false accusations within the time span of four business days. The accusations changed from “dishonesty,” questioning Dr. Saheli’s true nature of medical knowledge, to “Fraud”, and then to “others” after being confronted by Dr. Saheli’s Lawyer on the illegal basis of publicizing wrongful and unproven accusations before a hearing in the Superior Court. Also, MBC attorney Ms. Kerrie Webb and Board Member, Ms. Kristina Lawson, refused to refer to Dr. Saheli as “Dr. Saheli “or “Gezel Saheli, MD” in all formal and informal communications despite multiple notice. They referred to her as “Saheli.” However, based on public records, they have both referred to other applicants with their proper titles.
Dr. Saheli further alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of Administrative Law Judge Howard W Cohen’s, Deputy general E.A. Jones and the California Medical board’s false allegations on 18 matters.
Dr. Saheli filed a complaint for License Recusal of Administrative Law Judge Howard W Cohen and Supervising Deputy attorney General, E. A. Jones, III, based on grounds of incompetency due to their conflicts of interest, fraudulent misrepresentation, and defamatory allegations of cognitive impairment. She also filed a grievance against the administrative law judge’s discriminative biased rulings. Mr. Jones (a supervisory Deputy Attorney General) accused her of dishonesty and stated she was on “Disciplinary Unpaid leave under investigation” when she sent her application on 3-16-17. Multiple submitted exhibits and documents signed by the program director prove that her leave was not disciplinary, but rather satisfactory, and PAID.
In addition, Judge Howard Cohen accused Dr. Saheli of the discrepancy based on her factual statement in court. Dr. Saheli testified that an independent unsupervised central line placement is not an American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) requirement after graduation, based on an ABIM eligibility requirements screenshot she submitted. She had a proof of completion stating “requirement met” by St. Michael Hospital (her previous training residency program). The transfer Central line sign off requirement, which was met at St Michael’s by placing 10 central lines, was submitted to Dr. Saheli’s WMMC program. It was intended for Reference for future practice privileges in hospitals and possible higher income, and has nothing to do with board eligibility and ACGME graduation requirements.
Judge Cohen accused Dr. Saheli of controversial statements and dishonesty based on same ABIM exhibit and claimed those requirements were for entering IM residency and not for board eligibility. ABIM eligibility is only after completion of 3 years of residency and there is no procedure requirements for entering internal medicine residency because medical students are not allowed to do any procedures or even examine the patient without supervision. Lastly, there is no doubt regarding Judge Cohen’s, planned illogically biased ruling, based on his false statement on Dr. Saheli’s Pennsylvania License status. He wrote “Pending PA license” in his final ruling on 12-9-19 despite acceptance of her PA License information as a complementary exhibit in October 2019. The only logical conclusion based upon all of the above-mentioned evidence, is a planned and biased ruling and evidence of his conflict of interest.
As an active Veteran Hospital physician, and a US Citizen of 12 years, Dr. Saheli filed appeal and EEOC complaint against the California Medical Board and publish her story to raise public awareness.