Acknowledging widespread concern on campus, USC President C.L. Max Nikias said this week the university will “examine and address” a report in the Los Angeles Times that its former medical school dean abused drugs and associated with criminals and drug users.
Nikias, speaking about the controversy for the first time in a letter to the campus community, said that “we understand the frustrations expressed about this situation” involving Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito and “we are working to determine how we can best prevent these kinds of circumstances moving forward.”
“Our university categorically condemns the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of drugs,” Nikias said, The Times reported. “We are concerned about Dr. Puliafito and his family and hope that, if the article’s assertions are true, he receives the help and treatment he may need for a full recovery.”
Puliafito, 66, a renowned eye surgeon, led the Keck School of Medicine for nearly a decade before resigning in 2016. He remained on the Keck faculty and continued to represent the university at public events as recently as June 15.
On Monday, The Times published an article reporting that Puliafito, during his tenure as dean, kept company with a circle of criminals and addicts who said he used drugs with them. The same day, USC said Puliafito was no longer seeing patients and was on leave.
Asked if the university had discussed the Puliafito case with the California State Medical Board, USC said reports by peer review organizations were confidential, The Times reported.
“We can confirm, however, that the California Medical Board is aware of the situation,” USC said in a statement quoted by The Times. “They have the sole authority to decide whether and how much to investigate.”
In California, the medical board initiates investigations of doctors after receiving a complaint. According to the board, cases are given higher priority if the complaint concerns physician impairment or poses immediate harm to patients.
Puliafito resigned his $1.1 million-a-year dean’s post in March 2016, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.