MEQUON — A Wisconsin psychiatrist pleaded insanity, and the court agreed, so how is she still practicing?
Her doctors blame a rare medical condition for a "one-time" incident that frightened three young children.
In the spring of 2011, a mother took her three young children to a Naples, Florida beach, where a mentally unstable stranger mistook the children for her own.
"The woman was yelling 'these are my kids. Jesus, these are my kids!'" said Ashli Minor, the mother of the three children.
Minor lives in Massachusetts and was on vacation in Naples when it happened. Collier County Sheriffs Office records describe her 8-year-old son as he ran "screaming" about a woman who witnesses say had "crazed" eyes. The stranger had grabbed the boy's 9-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother as they played in the water, and refused to let go.
"[She] stuck him in between her legs and was squeezing him, yelling, 'these are my children. You're not allowed to touch them,'" Minor recalled.
Witnesses say the plainly delusional woman was standing in two feet of water, gripping the children so tightly she left scratches on their arms. Minor feared she might drown them, and for at least two harrowing minutes, she pleaded with the woman to let her children go.
"The kids were, oh gosh, terrified -- crying, shaking, looking at us as a parent to help them, and we were helpless," Minor said, fighting back tears.
In most cases, an insanity finding in a criminal case means the defendant is committed in mental health facility, but in Frank's case, the Florida court instead released her on the condition that her psychiatric health be monitored. Before long, Doctor Frank went back to work in Wisconsin... as a child psychiatrist.
"Why is she still allowed to practice?" Minor wondered.
"Not just a psychiatrist. She is a child psychiatrist!" said Ken Kramer, a licensed private investigator in Florida.
Kramer is also the founder of Psychsearch.net, an online clearinghouse of information about psychiatrists accused of misconduct.
"Sometimes you see a case where it's just like, 'holy crap! Look at this!'" said Kramer.
He admits his belief in Scientology drives his criticism of psychiatry. Even so, he says, this case stands out.
"We see an awful lot of psychiatrists in hot water, but we seldom see anyone that was declared insane in court, and we never see one that was declared insane in court that was also having an active license to practice," Kramer said.
In July, he filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. That is the agency that licenses professionals in Wisconsin, including psychiatrists.
"Couple days ago, I got a response from Wisconsin that said, 'oh no, we looked at this a couple years ago and we're not doing anything about it,'" Kramer said.
Records obtained by the FOX6 Investigators show Dr. Frank had been acting strangely in the days leading up to the Florida incident. In March 2011, she called Mequon police to report a stalker outside her house. Police found only a city sewer crew. Around that same time, her ex-husband described an incident in which Frank drove her car into a ditch to get away from someone following her and her children. The kids later told their father no one had been following them. A short time later, she took time off of work and went to Florida.
"I was told she was down there at a retreat with her parents because she was having some psychotic issues and needed to regroup," Minor said.
Dr. Frank's own attorneys and psychiatrists say the day she went to the beach, she was in a "profound psychotic state" caused by a change in her thyroid medication.
"To me, it's all a bunch of baloney," Kramer said.
To Dr. Stephen Dinwiddie, it's science.
"We've known for decades and decades that there's a link between thyroid disease and different kinds of psychiatric problems," Dinwiddie said.
However, Dinwiddie, who is director of forensic psychiatry at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, says thyroid-induced mental health conditions usually amount to little more than anxiety or depression.
"That severity of thyroid disease manifesting with a true break with reality is quite rare," he said.
In 1949, British researchers gave the condition a name -- Myxedema Madness.
"A case like that would certainly bear close watching into the indefinite future," Dinwiddie said.
Just a year after the incident, the Florida court released Dr. Frank from her monitoring requirements. When the state of Wisconsin offered a 10-year monitoring agreement, she rejected it, so in the fall of 2013, the state filed a formal complaint accusing Dr. Frank of unprofessional conduct. Five months after that, when her symptoms still had not resurfaced, the state reversed course and closed the file.
Today, there is no mention of it on the state's licensing website because the state does not publish cases that are dismissed.
"No one contacted me. No lawyers, nothing. It was just dropped, like it never happened," Minor said.
Dr. Frank declined repeated requests for an interview, but in a 2013 letter to the medical board, she cited her "exemplary" record as a psychiatrist and "outstanding job performance" reviews as evidence that she poses no risk to the public.
Her lawyers say it was a "one-time" incident.
Her psychiatrist described her as "completely stable," said she takes her medications "faithfully" and is "safely able to practice medicine."
Another expert wrote that "the likelihood of recurrence is low," though "no one can 100% predict the future."
"At what point do professionals have a certain right to privacy?" Dinwiddie said.
If the state believes Dr. Frank poses no future danger, Dr. Dinwiddie says there's little reason for the public to know about her past.
"That's not fair to somebody who's bringing their child to her," Minor said.
Minor said she has a hard time imagining the woman who traumatized her children is treating someone else's.
"I think it's insane," Minor said.
It has now been seven years since the Florida incident, and there is no indication Dr. Frank has suffered any symptoms of psychosis since then. Dr. Frank currently treats children at Rogers Behavioral Health in West Allis and at 16th Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee. Representatives of both employers told FOX6 they were aware of the incident and have no concerns about her mental health. They called Dr. Frank an "outstanding practitioner" and said they wholeheartedly stand behind her.
You can read their complete statements here:
Rogers Behavioral Health: “Rogers Behavioral Health is committed to helping our patients overcome mental health issues and find recovery. Suggesting that someone is not able to rise above a psychiatric issue only serves to perpetuate the stigma of mental illness. In her more than five years with Rogers, Dr. Frank has been an outstanding practitioner with nothing but success in her treatment of patients. Rogers wholeheartedly stands behind Dr. Frank with full support and no concerns. Those who hired her were aware of the earlier issue and we are absolutely confident she is fully competent, just as the State of WI determined in granting full licensure and privileges.”
16th Street Community Health Center: “We are aware of the incident and to answer your questions, have no concerns regarding Dr. Kimberly Frank’s capacity or competency as a provider. Dr. Frank has been with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers’ Behavioral Health Department for 5 years, caring for hundreds of patients with no complaints and maintaining a reputation of respect and excellence among her peers. Equal to all Sixteenth Street providers, Dr. Frank has been and continues to be subject to ongoing and regular peer review (which includes random chart review for clinical accuracy) patient satisfaction surveys and collaborative case reviews and holds in good standing all licenses and practicing privileges required by the State of Wisconsin. She is a valued member of the Sixteenth Street family, community and behavioral health team.”
Dr. Frank provided this statement through her attorney:
Kimberly Frank, MD: “Like millions of other Americans, I live a healthy and productive life with a thyroid disorder by proactively managing the condition with my doctor. Over seven years ago, an incident occurred when I experienced a one-time occurrence of a rare complication of my condition that could happen to anyone, while I was following the treatment recommendations of my doctor. A Florida Circuit Court Judge subsequently determined that I was not guilty of any wrongdoing, and the physician members of two separate state medical boards, including the State of Wisconsin Medical Board, each concluded that I have at all times met applicable professional license standards. I believe every person who experiences a traumatic incident deserves the opportunity to recover and continue on with his or her life's pursuits, as I have done by continuing to serve my patients. At all times, I have had the full support of my family, my community, my professional colleagues, my employers, and the families I serve, for which I am eternally grateful.”
The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services declined our request for an interview, but did send this statement:
Wisconsin DSPS: “The Department of Safety and professional Services takes seriously our mission of protecting the public. The Department and the Medical Examining Board thoroughly and completely pursued this case. In light of testimony from the department’s expert, pursuing the matter further would have been inappropriate, as the evidence did not support the conclusion that Dr. Frank was unable to practice with reasonable skill and safety.”
Dr. Frank's thyroid-induced psychosis does raise the question of how many others who suffer from thyroid disease may be at risk. Dr. Dinwiddie says while there is always a risk, it is "very, very, very low." Genuine psychosis caused by an over- or under-active thyroid, he says, is extremely rare, especially if the thyroid condition is properly treated. If you or someone you know has thyroid disease, he recommends consulting with your doctor.