A 65 year-old Hollister pain management specialist, Annamalai Ashokan, was arrested at his private practice in Chico on Jan. 30 after an investigation into charges he committed felony sexual assault on a patient. After reviewing medical examiner records, BenitoLink found previous unprofessional behavior and sexual misconduct.
Ashokan, who has private practices in Hollister and Chico, is a physician with privileges at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital (HHMH) and Orchard Hospital in Gridley, north of Sacramento. A Google search shows he is affiliated with the Pacific Pain Treatment Center in Hollister and the Monterey Pain Treatment Medical Center (MPTMC), which has locations in Hollister and Chico. BenitoLink was unable to locate any such offices in Hollister and their phones have been disconnected. Ashokan is also listed as being affiliated with Medical Specialty Center (MSC) in Gridley. The administrative officer there declined to verify or comment on Ashokan’s connection to MSC.
Ashokan is licensed in California as a physician and surgeon. According to the June 26, 2000 findings of the Medical Board of California, Ashokan was disciplined on four counts: sexual misconduct, gross negligence, dishonest and corrupt acts, and criminal conviction substantially related to duties of a physician, all of which he admitted to having committed.
On the count of sexual misconduct, the medical board report states that in January 1997, a female patient who had a work-related back injury and suffered from headaches and dizziness showed little improvement after numerous procedures over two years.
According to the report:
On Jan. 19, 1999, the patient came to Ashokan’s Hollister office where he performed a physical examination. She informed him that she was under the care of a psychiatrist and was taking medication for depression. She also told him she had been suicidal because of the pain.
Ashokan began giving her epidural injections, which did not relieve her pain. On Feb. 23, 1999, he injected her to numb the area of her lower back. She immediately became dizzy and nauseated. He told her to lie down on the exam table. He then asked her if she was single. When she said she was, he told her she was beautiful and that she needed someone to care for her and give her tender loving care.
As he talked to her, he began to rub himself against her and caress her under her blouse. All the while, she was still dizzy and nauseated. While he was examining her, he asked if she had plans for the evening. When she said she didn’t, he asked her to return to his office later in the evening. She was still dizzy as he helped her up from the table. He held her to him and again rubbed himself against her.
When the patient came back in the evening she found the door locked. She returned home where he called her. Later, in her home, they had consensual sex. Over the next couple days, she called him repeatedly and when she finally talked to him on Feb. 25, 1999, she asked if they could go to a movie. He told her that while he found her attractive, he said, “What happened the other day can’t happen again. I am your doctor and you are my patient.” In the report, Ashokan stated the patient then said if she wasn’t his patient, he could see her.
In March 1999, the patient filed a complaint with the medical board against Ashokan. In its report, the board determined Ashokan’s behavior constituted sexual misconduct for having engaged in a sexual relation with a patient. It also determined that his conduct amounted to gross negligence because he knew the patient was under psychiatric care, taking medication for depression and had expressed suicidal thoughts. The report states that even though Ashokan was aware of the patient’s fragile condition, he demonstrated complete disregard for her health in pursuit of his own sexual gratification.
The board also determined Ashokan was both dishonest and corrupt in his responses to its investigators’ questions. When asked if he wanted to go out with the patient, he told an investigator he could not do that because she was his patient. The report stated that Ashokan asked his patient to draft a letter saying that she did not want to be his patient and that she should backdate it to January 1999.
An investigator interviewed Ashokan again in June 1999. Ashokan denied ever contacting his patient outside his office. He also claimed he did not ask her to write the backdated letter. In September 1999 he was interviewed a third time. He denied having sexual relations with his patient, but did admit telling her to write the letter. He continued to claim that he did not tell her to backdate it.
In February 2000, the San Benito County District Attorney’s office filed a criminal complaint charging Ashokan with a misdemeanor count of violating the Business and Professions Code (sexual exploitation of a patient/client). In April of the same year, he was convicted following a no contest plea.
In July 2000, Ashokan signed a stipulated settlement and disciplinary order with the Division of Medical Quality of the California Medical Board. Consequently, his license was revoked for 60 days and he was placed on probation for five years, during which time he could not be in a room alone with a female patient. Ashokan also paid a $15,000 fine to the Medical Board. His probation ended in 2006. BenitoLink received no response from Hazel Hawkins as to whether Ashokan continued to have privileges or be listed as a staff member while his license was revoked for 60 days.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners used the evidence of the California case to suspend Ashokan’s license to practice medicine effective Jan. 1, 2001, because it was alleged that he had exercised bad judgment and demonstrated poor anesthesia management. This decision was reversed and his privileges were reinstated, but he was monitored during his next 20 cases.
After the California action, the New York State Board of Professional Medical Conduct also opened an inquiry into Ashokan. It discovered that in 1992 Ashokan lied on a registration document with the New York State Education Department about whether he had ever resigned or withdrawn in order to avoid sanctions due to professional misconduct, unprofessional conduct, incompetence or negligence. The investigation found that Ashokan had not revealed that in May 1991 he lost his privileges at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas. In December 2001 Ashokan surrendered his license to the New York board.
He admitted to the Arizona board that his behavior was unprofessional and surrendered his Arizona license in August 2002.
Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing for Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, responded to BenitoLink on Feb. 7 via email regarding the hospital’s vetting process and Ashokan’s relationship to the hospital.
“The Medical Staff of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital has a very thorough credentialing process for the safety of its patients, and makes recommendations to the hospital board regarding appointment to staff,” she said. “Dr. Ashokan currently holds a license with no restrictions by the California Medical Board.”
Gallagher said the hospital does not employ Ashokan, nor does he have a contract to provide any services at the hospital.
“He does not provide anesthesia services to surgical patients at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital,” she said. “Dr. Ashokan holds current medical staff privileges at HHMH to provide pain management services at the hospital to patients from his private practice.”
Gallagher said that any allegations against Ashokan concern incidents that did not happen at the hospital.
BenitoLink asked Gallagher how the hospital will guarantee safety to Ashokan’s patients. She said, “Protecting patient safety is the top priority of the hospital board and the medical staff, and all appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our patients.”
Calls to the Chico Police Department were not returned and the Butte County District Attorney’s office said it had not received any information on Ashokan from Chico police as of Feb. 8.
Also as of Feb. 8, Ashokan has not responded to requests for comment on his Chico arrest.
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