Manatee Rural Health board member med license suspended

dmarsteller@bradenton.comMarch 25, 2011 

MANATEE -- State officials have suspended a Bradenton pediatrician’s license to practice medicine, a rare move that could jeopardize his seat on Manatee County Rural Health Services’ board of directors.

The Florida Department of Health administratively suspended Carlos A. Mendez’ medical license March 15 for failure to pay child support, according to state records.

Florida law allows the suspension of any state-issued license, including those for driving, hunting and practicing law, for not complying with a child-support order.

Mendez’ medical practice at 802 40th St. W. said Thursday that he was on vacation and unreachable. His home telephone number is unlisted, and he did not immediately respond to emails or a note left at his home.

Court records show he owes former wife Melanie Watson more than $33,500 in child support as of mid-September, and former wife Susan Cooke $2,000 as of early December.

The Florida Department of Revenue, which collects and disburses child support payments and requested the suspension of Mendez’ license, said it could not provide updated figures because of confidentiality.

“I tried to contact him about it and he never returned my calls,” Watson said Wednesday. “He literally forced me to take it to court.”

Cooke declined to comment.

Mendez, 55, began practicing in Manatee County in 1984. He worked at Rural Health’s Samoset clinic for two years before opening his own practice.

He rejoined Rural Health as a board member in October, one of several reform measures the agency undertook following a Bradenton Herald investigation into its practices.

The Herald found that board members steered at least $3 million in agency business to themselves, agency officers and employees, and/or their relatives, each time saying it was not a conflict of interest. Among the board members who benefitted was John L. Lewis, who provided optometry services to Rural Health.

Lewis resigned his board seat following the newspaper series, and Mendez succeeded him. The seat must be occupied by a medical provider, according to the agency’s bylaws.

It was not immediately clear how the license suspension will affect Mendez’ board seat.

“Manatee County Rural Health has not received notification from the Florida Department of Health on the status of Dr. Mendez’s license,” the agency said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“If Dr. Mendez’s license has been suspended and is not reinstated before the next board meeting, the board will address the issue at that time.”

Rural Health’s next board meeting is April 20, said Tom Nolan, a Bradenton political consultant hired by Rural Health to be its media liaison. He said the agency would not speculate on what actions the board could take.

The agency -- which has refused to make its board meetings public -- also would not say whether Mendez participated in the board’s March 16 meeting, which took place a day after his license was suspended.

“We don’t think we need to comment on the attendance of board members at our board meetings,” Nolan said.

Suspending a physician’s license for not paying child support is rare: It’s happened only 18 times since the state began suspending licenses in 2008, state health officials said. Florida licenses more than 46,800 physicians.

Failure to abide by the suspension could result in the state board of medicine taking disciplinary action that could range from a fine to license revocation, said Jennifer Hirst, spokeswoman for the state health department. Under Florida law, Mendez must either comply with the child support orders or a written agreement with the Department of Health in order to get his license reinstated.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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