Doctor’s Sudden Retirement, Several Arrests Leave Patients in a Lurch

Notes from patients go unanswered.
Photo by Matthew Meyer

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

Former patients of a Palisadian eye doctor have been searching for answers since his unexpected exit from a Via De La Paz office left them without access to their medical records.

Now a Palisadian-Post investigation reveals ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Sawusch, 56, has been arrested on five separate occasions in the last three months.

These include a felony vandalism charge on July 30 and two preceding arrests near his Malibu home in the same week.

All the while, patients, colleagues and his office’s property management company have been trying to contact the doctor to no avail.

The ophthalmologist boasts a distinguished career of more than 30 years, including a medical degree from University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, a residency at Johns Hopkins University and certification from the American Board of Ophthalmology.

He announced his retirement to some of his patients a few months ago via phone calls from office staff.

But patients told the Post that Sawusch’s announcement didn’t come with instructions on how to retain copies of vital medical information—needed to fill prescriptions or continue care with a new doctor.

Other patients, like Shirley Coleman, didn’t hear word from the office at all, only learning of Sawusch’s retirement through others.

Contacting the office’s listed phone number only lead to a generic voicemail—calls were not returned.

Coleman told the Post she needed access to her records in order to find a new eye doctor. She finally visited the office in person, only to find a locked door.

She left a note with her contact information, hoping staff would return and send her the records.

A month has passed since she left the note, and the door of Sawusch’s former office, Suite 208 at 910 Via De La Paz, is now clustered with similar handwritten requests.

One of them was left by Val Oganisiyan, who has been trying to obtain his father’s records for weeks.

“We need [the records],” he told the Post. “He’s getting his prescriptions in the next month or two.”

Employees at the dermatologist’s office across the hall told the Post they’ve seen notes on the door for months. Sawusch patients come into their office looking for answers on a regular basis, but they hardly knew the doctor.

At a Studio City office where the doctor treated patients part-time, employees voiced a similar tone.

“We want to help,” an assistant manager at the office said of patients who have called in hopes of reaching him. “But there’s nothing we can do.”

The manager explained that Sawusch worked with patients in tandem with one of the office’s resident physicians, Dr. Barry Wagner.

Wagner’s working relationship with Sawusch spanned years, but since his sudden retirement, Wagner hasn’t been able to contact his former colleague either.

“He’s tried,” office staff said.

The Post sought to contact Sawusch through listed phone numbers and email addresses, before trying to reach him directly at his Malibu home.

On the morning of July 27, the PCH beach house’s front and garage doors stood wide open. An array of boxes in piles and a pipe spraying water were visible from the public highway. The home appeared unoccupied.

Calls to local law enforcement revealed that the night previous, Sawusch was arrested for suspected misdemeanor vandalism.

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Sgt. Matthew Dunne told the Post it involved an incident just before midnight on July 26 in which Sawusch was accused of throwing objects at a moving vehicle on PCH.

Sawusch was released on $1,000 bail on the morning of July 27.

Later that afternoon, the Post returned to his residence to once again seek his own account of recent events. The doors were now shut.

On both visits to the PCH home, nearby residents told the Post that the doctor’s behavior has been troubling for years, including incidents that prompted a response from the Malibu sheriff’s department.

Most were under the impression that Sawusch had been retired for years, not the mere months reported by his patients.

Further research into public arrest records revealed that in addition to his July 26 incident, the doctor was arrested in Santa Monica on both May 24 and July 4—first for a charge of public intoxication, and then for alleged battery of passersby at the pier and obstructing a police officer when confronted.

He was released on $1,000 and $10,000 bail.

Then on July 28 and 30, he landed in legal trouble again.

On July 28, sheriffs responded to an incident in which Sawusch reportedly refused to pay a steep restaurant bill. On July 30, the doctor was accused of inflicting more than $1,000 of damage on a passing rental vehicle in Malibu, triggering a felony vandalism charge.

The doctor’s California State Medical License is still valid through 2018.

State Medical Board official Cassandra Hockenson told the Post that any arrest of a licensed physician prompts a notification to the board and an immediate investigation.

Beyond the legal troubles, Hockenson confirmed that failing to provide patients with their medical records is a violation of the California Medical Practice Act.

If patients submit a formal, written request and do not receive the files within 15 days, it would be grounds for discipline or loss of license.

Patients are submitting formal complaints to the Medical Board now.

Hockenson confirmed that the board does have enforcement capabilities to investigate, locate and release the records if necessary.

A respected professional of many years, Sawusch’s recent troubles will come as a shock to those who relied on him for their medical care as recently as this year.

Char Lawrence, a Palisadian for 30 years, said that Sawusch treated her eyes for more than a decade, even completing her two successful cataracts surgeries.

Lawrence, who is also seeking missing records, called Sawusch “a man of few words” but said he was always professional.

“I trusted him,” she told the Post.

Now Palisadians who also entrusted their records and care with the doctor are left hoping for a speedy resolution.

If you are a former Sawusch patient who successfully obtained your medical records or are still seeking them, contact the Post at mypost@palipost.com.