A doctor employed at the University of Connecticut Health Center’s prison health service has left the health organization following a reprimand by the medical examining board. Dr. James O'Halloran worked at UConn for 15 years, but before even taking his state job he had a troubled record.
In January, the medical examining board placed O’Halloran on probation for five years for over-prescribing controlled substances and having an affair with a female employee in his private practice.
O’Halloran worked as physician for the Correctional Managed Health Care system that provides medical care to prisoners across the state. He was on leave pending the board’s decision. The board ordered that he undergo therapy and random drug testing and barred him from meeting with patients in private.
These are just the latest incidents in the long and litigious history that began before CMHC hired O’Halloran. His professional history included verbal threats toward patients and peers, inadequate care, lawsuits and medical suspensions.
In 1999, O'Halloran worked at Charlotte-Hungerford Hospital. He sued when the hospital board wanted to change his physician status from active to "consulting." O'Halloran sued for compensation, alleged that he was disparaged by staff members and suffered “tortious injury to his reputation and standing.” As part of their defense, the hospital produced a laundry list of incidents ranging from negligent care to threats of physical harm and possible forgery.
According to court documents, trouble began in 1993 when O’Halloran worked in the emergency room and walk-in clinic at Charlotte-Hungerford. He treated a walk-in patient for rectal bleeding. The following day the patient inquired whether he would be billed twice for both the walk-in clinic and the ER. O’Halloran “interpreted this as a criticism.” O’Halloran called the patient at home and left a message on his answering machine “to the effect, and this is a paraphrase, ‘I hope I hurt you yesterday. I’m glad I did.’” The patient was able to produce the answering machine tape in his complaint to the hospital. O’Halloran immediately resigned his position in the emergency room and sought psychiatric help for doctors.
In 1996, O’Halloran again had to enter into psychiatric treatment for threatening a case worker at the hospital. According to the caseworker’s testimony, “The unnerving thing was when he said I would not want to see him when he really became angry and that I would not want to know what he was thinking of doing.” O’Halloran’s attorney countered by saying, “The reader mustn’t forget that he is struggling with significant psychiatric issues.”
Then in 1997, the psychiatrist that O’Halloran was seeing as part of his treatment, Dr. Mohinder Chadha, had his license suspended. O’Halloran then helped Chadha by allowing him to write prescriptions on O'Halloran's prescription pad. One of the pharmacists noted that Chadha’s handwriting did not match O’Halloran’s and alerted the state licensing board. While no disciplinary action was taken against O’Halloran the president of the board labelled the actions “extremely imprudent,” and that both doctors had “lost sight of some important boundaries.”
Charlotte-Hungerford also listed several incidents of insufficient patient care and a history of poor medical record-keeping which caused him to be suspended. O’Halloran was brought before the hospital’s ethics, privileges and credential’s committee several times in the eight years he worked at the hospital, court documents show. When O’Halloran heard that the hospital board had considered changing his status to “consulting,” he filed suit before the board had even made a decision.
Following the lawsuit against Charlotte-Hungerford and the hospital's disclosure of these issues, O'Halloran was hired by UConn Health Center's CMHC program to provide medical care to inmates. Despite his history, O'Halloran received more than $200,000 in compensation.
O’Halloran was sued in 2005 by a Connecticut inmate, William Baxter, who alleged his civil rights were violated during the course of his HIV treatment. Although lawsuits from prisoners are frequent and often without merit, it was determined through testimony that O’Halloran was prescribing Baxter excessive amounts of medication. Dr. Edward Pesanti, the medical director of CMHC at the time, was alerted by fellow staff members that O’Halloran prescribed twice the recommended amount of the HIV drug Interferon Alpha 2B. While the patient’s health was stable, Pesanti stated in a letter, “I do not think that a patient doing well on an incorrect dosage of a potentially toxic medication is a reason to continue the overdosage.” Pesanti recommended that O’Halloran prescribe the medication in its correct dosage or threatened to discontinue CMHC use of the drug altogether. The judge dismissed the case, finding that Baxter’s civil rights had not been violated.
The most recent incidents occurred within O'Halloran's private practice in 2014. According to the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, at various times during the year O’Halloran prescribed controlled substances without proper documentation, abused alcohol to excess and engaged in a relationship with a female employee. The inter-office relationship resulted in O’Halloran’s prescription pad being stolen. The theft came to the medical board’s attention when pharmacists alerted them to forged prescriptions.
UConn's CMHC program remains controversial because the state does not allow other healthcare companies to bid to provide services, despite its high cost. Some critics see the payments as a subsidy for the UConn Health Center. Other states and New York City employ private healthcare companies who compete to provide services to the prison population. The program is also plagued with internal lawsuits by employees. CMHC employees are part of the New England Health Care Employees Union and receive state benefits and pensions.
In 2012, the CMHC program cost $94 million dollars but that number fell to $88.8 million in 2015. Seventy percent of CMHC's budget goes to employee compensation.
In 2014 O'Halloran received a salary of $180,590 with an additional $43,580 in fringe benefits. He will remain on probation for the next five years and has ceased his private practice. UConn Health Center confirmed that O’Halloran is no longer employed with CMHC, but declined to comment further.