Psychiatrist Alejandro Munoz terminated for violating '04 ban due to relationship with patient

January 7, 2012

State health officials fired a hospital psychiatrist last week after learning that he failed to disclose a decade-old legal settlement that banned him from ever working again at a state mental health facility.

Dr. Alejandro Munoz, who had worked for the Terrell State Hospital since June 2006, was terminated Friday, according to a letter from the facility's superintendent. Because Terrell is a state mental health facility, "you failed to abide by the settlement agreement," Joe Finch wrote.

Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services, which oversees state psychiatric hospitals, said the discrepancy was discovered when officials reviewed Munoz's employment records after he was named in a Statesman article as one of several state hospital psychiatrists with a history of sexual improprieties with their patients.

The department is reviewing all its psychiatrists in light of sexual abuse allegations against a former psychiatrist at Austin State Hospital.

State records show that in 2004 Munoz engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" with a 23-year-old patient while working at West Texas Centers for Mental Health Mental Retardation in Big Spring. According to those records, the female patient had depression and bipolar disorder.

Officials could not immediately detail the nature of the legal dispute that led to Munoz's state facility employment ban. Finch's letter states that it began when Munoz was fired for undisclosed reasons in 1998 from Rolling Plains State Operated Community Services, an outpatient mental health clinic in Graham, northwest of Fort Worth.

Munoz filed a grievance and later sued the Department of State Health Services, then known as the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. The sides settled in 2001 . In exchange for a payment of $25,000, Munoz agreed "never to seek employment with TDMHMR or any of its component facilities or any community mental health and/or mental retardation center …in Texas," according to a copy of the agreement.

On his employment application to Terrell State Hospital, Munoz said he left Rolling Plains for "personal reasons."

According to Munoz's employment file, obtained by the Statesman under Texas open records laws, the psychiatrist appears to have violated the ban three times over the past decade. The records show he worked at West Texas Centers, an outpatient clinic, between 2002 and 2004. He also worked as a temporary physician for LifePath Systems in Plano in 2005 , and at Terrell State Hospital since 2006. All are state-funded mental health facilities and would fall under the ban described in the legal settlement.

Munoz does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment. In a Dec. 27 meeting with Finch, the psychiatrist said he did not think he violated the terms of the settlement because he didn't know the facilities qualified under the agreement and said he was under the impression he could not discuss the terms of the settlement.

Williams said the Department of State Health Services did not hire Munoz at West Texas and LifePath because the organizations are not state agencies, but contractors working on behalf of the state. Still, she added, the psychiatrist clearly should not have been hired at Terrell because of the employment ban, as well as the abuse case.

"He shouldn't have applied, and we shouldn't have hired him," she said. "We should have picked up on the extent of the history and issues with his application."

Source: Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer, "State fires doctor for violation of job ban," Austin American Statesman, January 3, 2012.


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