AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion: Doc­tors keep li­censes de­spite sex abuse.

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — Even as Hol­ly­wood moguls, elite jour­nal­ists and top politi­cians have been pushed out of their jobs or re­signed amid al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct, the world of medicine is more for­giv­ing, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Even when doc­tors are dis­ci­plined, their pun­ish­ment of­ten con­sists of a short sus­pen­sion paired with ther­apy that treats sex­u­ally abusive be­hav­ior as a symp­tom of an ill­ness or ad­dic­tion.

The first time that Dr. An­thony Bianchi came onto a pa­tient, Cal­i­for­nia's med­i­cal board al­leged, the gy­ne­col­o­gist placed a chair against the exam room door, put his fin­gers into the woman's vagina and ex­posed his erect pe­nis.

The sec­ond time, the board claimed, he told a pa­tient that he couldn't stop star­ing at her breasts and re­counted a dream in which he per­formed oral sex on her in the of­fice.

The third time, the board charged, he told a preg­nant pa­tient suf­fer­ing from vagi­nal bleed­ing that she shouldn't shave her pu­bic hair be­fore her next visit, as he was get­ting too ex­cited.

These episodes led to dis­ci­plinary ac­tions by the state's med­i­cal board in 2012 and in 2016. Bianchi agreed not con­test the charges, and held onto his med­i­cal li­cense. Under a set­tle­ment with Cal­i­for­nia's med­i­cal board, he agreed to seek ther­apy and re­frain from treat­ing women dur­ing five years of pro­ba­tion.

Bianchi did not re­spond to tele­phone mes­sages from The As­so­ci­ated Press left for him at the work­ers' com­pen­sa­tion clinic in Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia, where he now eval­u­ates oc­cu­pa­tional health claims.

Decades of com­plaints that the physi­cian dis­ci­plinary sys­tem is too le­nient on sex-abus­ing doc­tors have pro­duced lit­tle change in the prac­tices of state med­i­cal boards. And the #MeToo cam­paign and the rapid push in re­cent months to in­crease ac­count­abil­ity for sex­ual mis­con­duct in Amer­i­can work­places do not ap­pear to have sparked a move­ment to­ward chang­ing how med­i­cal boards deal with physi­cians who act out sex­u­ally against pa­tients or staffers.

"There's been a fail­ure of the med­i­cal com­mu­nity to take a stand against the is­sue," said Azza Abbudagga, a health ser­vices re­searcher with non­profit ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Pub­lic Cit­i­zen.

She pub­lished a re­port re­cently de­tail­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct among physi­cians. Its find­ings showed of the 253 doc­tors re­ported to the Na­tional Prac­ti­tioner Data Bank for hav­ing been sanc­tioned by their re­spec­tive hos­pi­tals or health care or­ga­ni­za­tions for sex­ual mis­con­duct, or paid a set­tle­ment that stemmed from such an al­le­ga­tion, 170 of them were not dis­ci­plined by state med­i­cal boards, even though all boards have ac­cess to the re­ports filed with the data bank.

Cur­rent guide­lines from the Fed­er­a­tion of State Physi­cian Health Pro­grams, which rep­re­sents doc­tor re­hab pro­grams in 47 states, are largely silent on han­dling sex­ual mis­con­duct treat­ment and de­scribe sex­ual ha­rass­ment as a "cause of im­pair­ment" in a doc­tor. Pro­grams to treat doc­tor im­pair­ment are in­her­ently sup­posed to be "non-dis­ci­plinary," per the fed­er­a­tion's guide­lines.

State-au­tho­rized pro­grams that at­tempt to over­see the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of doc­tors who have com­mit­ted sex­ual mis­con­duct aren't al­ways forth­com­ing about their meth­ods. In Florida, the Pro­fes­sional's Re­source Net­work asked the AP to pro­vide de­tailed ques­tions and a list of sources be­fore it would an­swer ques­tions.

Af­ter the AP pro­vided the head of the pro­gram, Alexis Polles, with ba­sic ques­tions about the pro­gram's ap­proach to clear­ing doc­tors for re­turn to work af­ter in­stances of sex­ual abuse, she de­clined to an­swer any of them.

The le­nience of penal­ties for sex­u­ally abusive doc­tors some­times a source of frustration even for mem­bers of the med­i­cal board who ad­min­is­ter the dis­ci­pline, ac­cord­ing to Ja­son Rosen­berg, a for­mer chair­man of the Florida med­i­cal board.

"This is in­cred­i­bly in­ap­pro­pri­ate," Rosen­berg said dur­ing one 2013 meet­ing when Florida's med­i­cal board al­lowed James Yel­ton-Rossello, a psy­chi­a­trist al­leged to have mo­lested jailed psy­chi­atric pa­tients, to keep his li­cense. The set­tle­ment with the Florida board of medicine did not re­quire Yel­ton-Rossello to ad­mit guilt.

"You can't do this and serve french fries," Rosen­berg said at that meet­ing, cit­ing some fast food restau­rants' poli­cies against hir­ing sex of­fend­ers. "I'm ashamed of what's go­ing on here."

Yel­ton-Rossello's lawyer did not re­spond to tele­phone mes­sages or an email re­quest for com­ment.

In prac­tice, even some lawyers who rep­re­sent doc­tors find the physi­cian health pro­grams to be prob­lem­atic. David Spicer, who has rep­re­sented doc­tors fac­ing med­i­cal board dis­ci­pline in Florida, says the state's doc­tor re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram isn't well de­signed to eval­u­ate or treat sex­ual mis­be­hav­ior. The pro­gram's key com­po­nent, he said, is a "one-size-fits-all" re­quire­ment that doc­tors en­gage in ther­apy ses­sions and not get into trouble for a spec­i­fied pe­riod, gen­er­ally five years.

Ex­perts in the treat­ment of sex­ual mis­be­hav­ior ques­tion whether the treat­ments man­dated for doc­tors who mo­lest pa­tients are even ap­pro­pri­ate for such mis­con­duct.

"It's in­suf­fi­cient," said Rory Reid, a UCLA psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor who stud­ies ad­dic­tion and hy­per­sex­ual be­hav­ior. "We have clin­i­cal tri­als for ev­ery­thing un­derneath the sun," Reid said. "But there's not one clin­i­cal trial that I'm aware of on the ef­fi­cacy of treat­ment for doc­tors who have en­gaged in sex­ual mis­con­duct."

Con­way Po­lice Depart­ment via AP

Sex­ual Mis­con­duct: In this im­age pro­vided by the Con­way Po­lice Depart­ment, Robert Rook is seen in this June 3, 2016, photo. An As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds that even as Hol­ly­wood moguls, elite jour­nal­ists and politi­cians have been pushed out of...

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