States orders emergency license restriction on local doctor accused of groping patient
Florence Fruehan, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Palm Coast Urgent Care and a member of the East Flagler Mosquito Control District board, has had his medical license subjected to an emergency restriction by the Department of Health in connection with a patient's accusation that he groped her in May.
The Flagler County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the case, and the investigation was ongoing as of Aug. 3.
Fruehan has opted to fight the allegations and will have a formal hearing in front of an administrative law judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings, according to Florida Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton.
The emergency license restriction bars Fruehan from treating and interacting with female patients without another licensed healthcare professional physically present at all times.
The alleged incident occurred May 24, when a 54-year-old patient — identified by the initials J.M. in the Department of Health document — who'd been seeing Fruehan as a patient for about two years came to the Urgent Care on Pine Cone Drive in Palm Coast for a prescription refill.
A female certified nurse assistant took the patient's vitals, then led her to a room to wait for Fruehan.
Fruehan came into the room, gave the patient a six-month prescription, then, as he walked her to the front desk to check out, asked her how long she'd been married, according to the document.
She told him she was a widow.
He told her she was due for a mammogram, and she asked him to provide her with recommendations for an ob-gyn.
He asked her to follow him into the room next to the front desk.
“I thought we were entering his office, but instead we went into an examination room,” she said, according to a Department of Health Investigative Report. “It was then that he [Fruehan] grabbed both of my breasts through my blouse and bra and kneaded/groped both of my breasts. When he let go of my breasts, he stated, 'I’m sorry your husband died.'"
The he walked out of the room.
“I was left alone and was in total shock by what had just happened," the patient said, according to the Investigative Report. “I did not tell anyone in the office what had happened, because I was in total shock. I never gave him [Fruehan] any type of permission or indication that it was permissible to touch my breasts. After this occurred, I walked out to my car and broke down into tears.”
She reported the incident to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office May 25.
After she'd reported it, she said, according to the Department of Health's Investigative Report, she got a call from Walgreens June 6 saying that Fruehan had called them and withdrawn the six-month prescription and replaced it with a one-month prescription.
“This is in retaliation for me filing a complaint against him," she said, according to the Investigative Report. "I am in the process of locating another physician anyway.”
"Dr. Fruehan violated the trust that Patient J.M. placed in him by committing an egregious act of sexual misconduct," the Department of Health document states. "Patient J.M. presented to Dr. Fruehan to obtain a medication refill, a situation that all of Dr. Fruehan's female patients will likely encounter during their course of treatment. Dr. Fruehan's conduct was so brazen and with such a wanton disregard for the laws and rules regulating the practice of osteopathic medicine, that any female patient that presents to Dr. Fruehan for many purpose is in danger of harm within the confines of the examination room. Dr. Fruehan's conduct is of a nature that is likely to continue as long as he continues to treat female patients without supervision."
A proceeding seeking formal discipline of Fruehan's license will follow, according to the Department of Health document.
Potential penalties that could be imposed by the Department of Health include one or more of the following, according to an administrative complain on the case: permanent revocation or suspension of the doctor's license, restriction of practice, imposition of an administrative fine, issuance of a reprimand, placement of the doctor on probation, corrective action, refund of fees billed or collected, remedial education "and/or any other relief that the Board deems appropriate," according to the document.