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Attorney finds flaw in MCMC opening statement

The attorney for Mid-Columbia Medical Center provided information during an opening statement at the start of the current civil trial that was refuted by the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Andrew Efaw practices out of Colorado and specializes in defending medical institutions against malpractice claims. In Oct. 2 remarks, the second day of the trial, he said Dr. Frederick Field had mentioned to Dr. Mark McAllister over lunch that he knew of another doctor who had been accused of sexually abusing a patient. At that point, Efaw said Field said, “I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.”

The conversation between the two doctors took place Feb. 10, 2011, following a patient accusation against Field for molestation. Willie Gmeinder complained to McAllister that Field, an anesthesiologist, had forced her to touch his genitalia while she was sedated for surgery.

Field pleaded guilty in September 2012 for one rape and 11 counts of sexual abuse, which included the incident with Gmeinder. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Attorney Gregory Kafoury put McAllister, a urological surgeon, on the stand Oct. 2 to dispute Efaw’s words. He said pre-trial testimony given by the doctor showed that Field had actually said that he had been accused of inappropriate touching during his medical residency.

In pre-trial questioning by Kafoury, McAllister had been recorded as saying that during his lunch with Field, who had visited Gmeinder’s room earlier that morning, the anesthesiologist said, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again.” He then referred to a similar complaint that had been filed during his medical residency.

“I don’t remember him going into detail about exactly what he had been accused of,” said McAllister after his recorded words were played for the jury. He expressed uncertainty that he had relayed that memory of the conversation to Diane Storby, vice-president of operations at MCMC. But her notes showed documentation of a similar version of Field’s comments.

“Can we agree then that this was what Fred Field told you at lunch?” asked Kafoury of McAllister.

The doctor said the words might have been somewhat different but Field was referencing himself and not someone else in that conversation.

“I don’t remember Fred Field saying ‘another doctor.’ I remember him saying it was himself,” said McAllister.

At issue is Kafoury’s argument that Diane Storby, had a patient register a complaint of sex abuse on the same day that she learned from McAllister about the possibility that Field had committed similar actions at another hospital. However, she told police and Kafoury during pre-trial testimony that she had not investigated that report.

Storby is responsible for risk management to protect the hospital from liability and also acts as patient advocate, two roles that Kafoury contends are incompatible.

The Portland firm Kafoury and McDougal is representing five women who are waiting for a second trial and Gmeinder, Erin Vance, also a patient who was abused, are plaintiffs in the current legal proceedings. They are both from The Dalles and joined by Sharon Hobbs of Mosier, who is represented by Jan Wyers of Hood River.

The women are seeking $18 million in compensatory and punitive damages from MCMC, whose two top administrators have been accused of engaging in a campaign of “concealment and deceit” to protect the hospital from liability.

Because Storby and Duane Francis, chief executive officer, did not act on a complaint filed by a patient in 2008, Kafoury said other women were victimized within the next three years. Both administrators are being sued personally although an attorney for MCMC said they will not personally pay if a damage claim is awarded because they were acting as agents of the hospital.

Efaw is joined in defending MCMC, Francis and Storby by Portland attorneys Robert Keating and Peter Eidenberg.

McAllister told the jury in the Wasco County courtroom Oct. 2 that he had been on the job at MCMC for only eight months when Gmeinder told him about memories of being molested by Field.

A nurse who overheard that conversation told Field about the complaint and he visited Gmeinder’s room. He reassured her that the drugs used to sedate her during surgery had caused hallucinations. She then recanted her earlier accusation when McAllister went to her room the next morning.

Kafoury pointed out that neither McAllister nor Storby documented the full nature of Gmeinder’s complaint. He said McAllister had only addressed the fact that she claimed to have hallucinations that created an unspecified false memory. In her notes, Storby referred to the accusation as “inappropriate touching.”

Kafoury asked McAllister if he had been told by Storby while reporting the incident with Gmeinder and Field that there had been a 2008 complaint by a female patient that was similar in nature. The doctor replied that he had not.

He and Storby decided to leave Gmeinder alone for the rest of that day after she complained in order to allow the drugs to clear out of her body and mind before questioning her further. McAllister visited her the next day and she then told him that her memories were the result of a hallucination and not something that had actually happened. He had then reported to Storby that no further action was necessary so she had not visited Gmeinder herself.

“If Diane Storby had told you of another MCMC complaint, would you have put both sets of facts together and not been so quick to end the investigation?” asked Kafoury.

“Possibly,” said McAllister.

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