Andrew Efaw, an attorney from Colorado, warned jurors Wednesday to be on the lookout for “red herrings” in the civil trial against Mid-Columbia Medical Center taking place at the Wasco County Courthouse in The Dalles.
He told the 15 jurors, including three alternates, to be aware that the attorney for the three women suing the hospital would try to detract from the facts in the case by raising side issues. He said these issues might be disturbing in nature but were not relevant to the suit that seeks to hold the hospital liable for wrongdoing.
For example, he said Gregory Kafoury’s opening statement had referred to several complaints of sexual harassment registered in 2010 by hospital employees against Dr. Frederick Field, a convicted sex offender.
He said no one on either side of the case would argue the fact that the former anesthesiologist had molested patients and even raped one co-worker. However, he said that type of sexual assault was criminal in nature, so it was handled by outside authorities. However, sexual harassment complaints are dealt with internally by hospital administrators, who do not tolerate that type of behavior.
“The two aren’t the same thing,” said Efaw.
He said sometimes things are just as they appear, not some sort of “plot” to thwart an investigation into possible misconduct. He said Diane Storby, vice-president of operations, who is charged with risk management and patient advocacy, could not find patient records from a 2008 sexual abuse complaint because they had been placed in the basement that she never visited.
Several years had passed since the woman made the allegations and the investigation into Field’s behavior began. For that reason, Storby could not remember the woman’s name or the year that her complaint had been made, which impeded the search.
“It is a red herring that the hospital is an evil maniacal entity that is somehow hiding stuff,” said Efaw.
He said administrators at MCMC knew nothing about Field practicing “curbside medicine” by providing co-workers with drugs to help with medical issues. His rape conviction stemmed from giving a painkiller to a co-worker with a migraine while they were at an on-call house owned by the hospital. She drifted off to sleep and when she awoke, Field was having intercourse with her, a fact that was proven by semen stains on the sofa cushion.
“The curbside medicine was done off the record and the hospital didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “The people giving it and the people receiving it kept it a secret.”
Efaw said the evidence in the case would show that there was only one person to blame for what happened to the 12 women involved in the criminal case: Dr. Frederick Field.
He said Francis and Storby only knew about two sex abuse complaints when police began investigating the allegations against Field in May 2011.
“There were a lot of victims and they didn’t come forward,” he said. “What are you to do when somebody won’t step up and tell you what’s going on?”
He said most of the victims went home without saying anything, sometimes for years, but Francis and Storby did their best to address the complaints of the two women that they did know about.
He said Storby had gone to extraordinary lengths to follow up with the first patient to report abuse in 2008. After that woman called in her complaint, the administrator had tried to reach her at two different numbers but numerous messages were not returned. She had also sent two requests for a meeting to the address given by the woman and the certified letter had been returned but the regular letter had not. Storby presumed that she received the correspondence.
Efaw said plaintiff Willie Gmeinder told a nurse after her surgery in February 2011 that “it was not appropriate for the anesthesiologist to have his (genitals) in my face all the time.” The nurse then brought the issue to Field who “appears completely shocked, the sort of reaction you’d expect when you accuse somebody of something that is beyond comprehension.”
He said Field and the nurse then visited Gmeinder to talk about the issue. When she explained her memory, he was “reasonable and professional” in explaining how some drugs cause hallucination and repressed memories to surface. Then, later, when Field was having lunch with Dr. Mark McAllister, the woman’s surgeon, he mentioned how another doctor had been accused of similar abuse
At that point, Field said, “I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes,” and McAllister changed the subject. Later that afternoon, he reported what Field had said to Storby and they discussed how to address the situation with Gmeinder.
They decided that McAllister would visit her in the morning after the drugs were cleared from her system. He did so and she recanted her accusations.
In the case of the employee claiming abuse during surgery in 2007, Efaw said her husband talked to a doctor at MCMC who encouraged her to come forward. He said Francis made first contact with police to explain the situation.
He said Capt. Ed Goodman from The Dalles Police Department asked Francis and Storby not to let Field know he was under suspicion in spring 2011. So, they had been unable to suspend him from duty but had heightened surveillance in the operating room.
Efaw said it is important to note that, once MCMC began taking precautionary measures, there were no more reports of abuse at the facility.