State officials on Monday suspended the medical license of a Springfield psychiatrist suspected of flirting with and inappropriately touching six female patients between 2009 and 2013.
The state isn’t alleging that Dr. Kripakaran Puvalai had sex with patients, but according to a complaint filed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Puvalai “engaged in a pattern of sexually inappropriate conduct and multiple physician-patient boundary violations with numerous patients of his psychiatric practice.”
The complaint said the conduct occurred while Puvalai worked at two locations — when he was a consulting psychiatrist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Springfield clinic and while he practiced at Psychiatric Associates, 1124 S. Sixth St.
State officials opened an investigation into Puvalai’s conduct in 2010 but said in the complaint that they took action to temporarily remove Puvalai from practice because of an “immediate danger to the safety of the public.”
The move was prompted by the state recently learning that “multiple health-care providers” had concerns about Puvalai’s “failure to maintain proper boundaries between patients and psychiatrist,” according to an affidavit filed by Dr. Brian Zachariah, the state agency’s chief medical coordinator.
Puvalai’s attorney, Lillian Walanka, said she doesn’t know whether Puvalai will fight the suspension at a hearing scheduled for Nov. 7-8 in Springfield.
“Dr. Puvalai has a right to contest those allegations,” Walanka said. “We’re still reviewing the allegations. We’re at the very beginning of determining how we’re going to proceed.”
According to the complaint, Puvalai, 57, told one patient she had a “nice figure” and should visit his house when his wife was out of town.
Puvalai allegedly watched pornography on his office computer with another patient, put his hand up her shorts and tried to kiss her on the mouth.
He asked another patient to go out for drinks and accompany him on a trip to Las Vegas, according to the complaint.
He encouraged another patient to have “one night stands,” the complaint said.
When Puvalai was going through a residency training program in psychiatry at Springfield’s Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, his “lack of professional conduct related to maintaining appropriate boundaries between himself and patients” prevented him from completing the residency on time in 2001, the complaint said.
A 2001 letter that SIU gave Puvalai stated he would have to demonstrate acceptable performance in a remedial program to complete his residency.
According to the complaint, the remediation included requirements that all of Puvalai’s psychotherapy sessions with patients be videotaped, all of Puvalai’s patient-care activities be monitored by an SIU faculty member, and that Puvalai engage in psychotherapy with a therapist outside SIU’s Department of Psychiatry.
Puvalai, who earned his medical degree in India and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, completed his psychiatry residency at SIU in 2002, according to the IDFPR website.
It’s unclear whether VA officials knew about Puvalai’s alleged conduct. A call to the VA’s Illiana Health Care System, which operates the Springfield location at 5850 S. Sixth St., wasn’t returned Monday.
Puvalai worked for the VA between March 2008 and September 2010, the state’s complaint said. A copy of a VA letter to Puvalai said his services “are no longer required” at the Springfield location and added, “We appreciate all you have done for our facility.”
The state hadn’t taken any previous disciplinary action against Puvalai.
Sue Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said any other patients of Puvalai’s who have had problems with him can file a complaint by contacting the department at (312) 814-6910 or going online at http://tinyurl.com/MDcomplaints.
Puvalai worked at Psychiatric Associates, a group practice of psychiatrists and psychologists, for about five years and left in mid-September, according to Katie Crouse, a receptionist at the practice.
Puvalai told The State Journal-Register in 2002, in a story about the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on foreign medical graduates, that he and his wife, another SIU-trained psychiatrist, trained in India as a family-medicine specialists and practiced there before moving to New Zealand and then the United States.