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Remarks lay out MCMC suit: Plaintiff opening statement

Portland attorney Gregory Kafoury promised jurors in his opening remarks Wednesday that their service in the multi-million civil suit would be “one of the memorable experiences of your lifetime.”

He then set about portraying administrators at Mid-Columbia Medical Center as people who were less concerned with public safety than shielding doctors and the institution from liability. He promised the jury, that evidence would show the hospital engaged in a pattern of deliberate concealment and deceit.

He said accusations of abuse had either not been documented or had been written inaccurately to lessen the severity of the complaint. For example, a patient’s report in 2011 that “he forced my hand to touch his (genitals)” was changed to “inappropriate touching,” which allowed the situation to be explained away as accidental.

Kafoury showed the jury how an upright cloth screen was placed over the upper torso of a patient in the operating room to protect the anesthesiologist from blood spatter and the doctor and nurses from ether emissions. He also pointed out that layers of sheets were draped over the patient so that movement beneath them could not be easily detected if the attention of medical staff was focused elsewhere, such as on the surgery procedure.

He used video footage of depositions given by Duane Francis, chief executive officer at MCMC, and Diane Storby, vice-president of operations, who deals with risk management and patient advocacy, to show inconsistencies in their statements. They claimed not to to recall many details about a 2008 complaint, including the woman’s name and the exact nature of her allegations.

He said her records were then “misplaced,” and when they were finally found after the investigation had started, they were not turned over to police until months later. When a second woman came forward in 2010 after years of struggling to cope with a molestation that occurred in 2007, Kafoury said Storby attempted to discredit her when reporting the incident to police. Her name has not been used in this story because she is not part of the current trial.

Kafoury said Detective Sgt. Dan Nelson from The Dalles Police Department stated in pre-trail questioning that his investigation was held up by the hospital’s failure to provide him with information. He learned about some elements of the case by reading media reports and not from Francis or Storby.

“The culture, as you will see, comes from the very top,” said Kafoury. “How was he [Field] able to avoid detection for four years? The answer is, he wasn’t.”

After Field learned of Willie Gmeinder’s molestation accusations on Feb. 20, 2011, he told Dr. Mark McAllister, her surgeon, over lunch that he was innocent. However, he then mentioned being accused of the same type of abuse during his medical residency. Yet that admission, said Kafoury, did not cause enough concern for Storby, who was informed about the conversation by McAllister, to investigate — even though she knew there was a possibility that a second incident had just occurred.

Storby had received a similar complaint from a patient in 2008, the woman whose records she was later unable to find. That patient, said Kafoury, did return a call by Storby and said she was “utterly dismissive” of allegations and told her Field had “impeccable credentials” and “what you say happened, never happened.”

Gmeinder was visited by Field after complaining to McAllister and told her memories of molestation had been hallucinations caused by the drugs he had used to sedate her. McAllister then reinforced that theme when he returned to check on her the next day, said Kafoury, and she became confused and intimidated enough to temporarily recant her claim. Storby never came to see her.

“It strikes me as a conflict to have Ms. Storby in charge of risk management, which is making sure the hospital is protected (from liability) and also as the patient advocate,” said Kafoury.

He said when a former employee went to police in spring 2011 claiming Field had rubbed her genitals and breast following one of four surgeries in 2007, she became the “woman who brought him down.” She had not said anything for years out of fear of losing her job but was finally convinced by her husband to do so because of emotional problems she was having. The woman told Storby that she asked Dr. David Mack to make sure that she was never alone with Field on a surgery that followed the molestation and he had promised to do so. Kafoury said Storby, again, failed to check with Mack to verify that claim. Francis and Storby told the employee that they would not call the police due to the possibility of being sued for defamation by Field.

“They made it very clear that if she went to the police, she was going to be out on her own, and could bring scandal down on her employer,” said Kafoury.

In a recorded phone call made July 28, 2011, by that woman and recorded by a detective, Field admitted to sexual abuse. He was arrested the same day.

Wyers took the podium briefly after Kafoury’s presentation to provide the jury with background information on his client, Sharon Hobbs of Mosier. He told them that she was unable to sleep well at night and suffered from nightmares and a deep distrust of the medical profession after being molested during a Jan. 3, 2011, surgery by Field.

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