Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sexually abusive physicians are allowed to continue practicing nationwide, Atlanta paper reports

UPDATE, July 19: Susannah Nesmith explains for Columbia Journalism Review how the newspaper pursued the story.

Despite accusations of sexual misconduct from 17 women,
Austin physician Philip Leonard is still practicing. (AJC)
Little is being done in the U.S. to punish physicians who sexually abuse patients, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The year-long probe by Carrie Teegardin, Danny Robbins, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ariel Hart found more than 3,100 doctors "who were publicly disciplined since Jan. 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions. More than 2,400 were sanctioned for violations that clearly involved patients. The rest were disciplined for sexual harassment of employees or for crimes such as child pornography, public indecency or sexual assault."

Of the more than 2,400 "publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct, half still have active medical licenses today," the APC reports. "Georgia and Kansas, for example, allowed two of every three doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct to return to practice, orders on board websites show. In Alabama, it was nearly three out of every four. In Minnesota, it was four of every five."

"Society condemns sexual misconduct by most citizens and demands punishment," the newpsaper reports. "But when a physician is the perpetrator, AJC found, the nation often looks the other way. Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them."

"Many, if not most, cases of physician sexual misconduct remain hidden," the story goes on. "State boards and hospitals handle some cases secretly. In other cases, medical boards remove once-public orders from their websites or issue documents that cloak sexual misconduct in vague language. When cases do come to the public’s attention, they are often brushed off by the medical establishment as freakishly rare. It doesn’t necessarily happen every day, but it happens far more often than anyone has acknowledged."

In some cases victims refuse to say anything, the AJC reports. "Intimidated, confused or embarrassed, they fear that no one will take their word over a doctor’s. Colleagues and nurses stay silent. Hospitals and health care organizations brush off accusations or quietly push doctors out, the investigation found, without reporting them to police or licensing agencies."

"The medical profession has never taken on sexual misconduct as a significant priority," the story reports. "And layer upon layer of secrecy makes it nearly impossible for the public, or even the medical community itself, to know the extent of physician sexual abuse. Dr. Gene Abel, an Atlanta physician and nationally recognized expert in evaluating sexual misconduct by professionals, told the AJC, “There just isn’t accurate data." (Read more)

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