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Lawyer: ‘red flags’ ignored

TIMELINE OF ABUSE

A timeline of 12 sexual abuse cases that led to the criminal conviction of Dr. Frederick Field in September 2012 was presented Wednesday for jurors in the civil suit to read.

The poster board listing the woman and dates of abuse was displayed by attorney Gregory Kafoury, on behalf clients Willie Gmeinder and Erin Vance, both victims from The Dalles. The third plaintiff in the trial that began Oct. 1 is Sharon Hobbs of Mosier, who is represented by Jan Wyers.

On Sept. 24, 2007, the first abuse of an employee by Field, an anesthesiologist, took place during surgery. The woman did not report this incident until May of 2011.

The second patient was molested during surgery on Jan. 9, 2008. The woman was the first to report abuse via a telephone call but hospital administrators say she could not be reached for a follow-up conversation.

The rape of nurse Tiffany Rager took place on March 14, 2008, and the molestation of another hospital employee occurred on April 2, 2008. Rager testified in court Tuesday and gave permission for her name to be used in media reports, as did the three plaintiffs.

Abuse against an employee took place Jan. 18, 2010, followed by similar incidents involving female patients on Jan. 26, March 25 and April 5. Vance, also a patient, was molested on December 30 of that year.

In 2011, Hobbs, a patient, was abused on Jan. 3, and Gmeinder on Feb. 10. The last incident of molestation occurred Jan. 24 and involved a co-worker of Field. He was arrested four days later.

The attorneys for three women molested by Dr. Frederick Field say the number of victims could have been reduced if hospital officials had not ignored a series of “red flags” over a three-year period.

Gregory Kafoury, Mark McDougal and Jason Kafoury, who work out of a Portland firm that specializes in severe injury cases, have spent five days arguing that administrators covered up the anesthesiologist’s behavior. And that set the stage for Field to sexually harass medical staff and abuse both patients and co-workers, 12 of whom were involved in the criminal case against him.

Kafoury said the first report from a female patient about molestation by Field during surgery was received by the hospital in January 2008. That complaint was shelved after administrators claimed not to be able to reach her for a follow-up conversation.

The attorney said administrators chose not to revisit that incident when Dick Ohnemus, a nurse in charge of surgical services, wrote a memo in May 2010 addressing the complaints of several nurses about Fields’ conduct. The women had posted a watch outside of dressing rooms after Field entered unexpectedly while they were changing clothes several times. Field had also reportedly fondled the breasts of one nurse while tying her sterile gown in preparation for surgery.

That nurse took the stand last week to say that, although she turned around and kicked Field to get him to back away, she did not think his behavior qualified as sexual harassment. Only if the anesthesiologist repeated the action after being told not to do so did she think his behavior would be a violation of hospital policy.

Similar statements were made by two other nurses who were called by Kafoury as witnesses in the trial, which began Oct. 1 and is now at its midway point.

“I think every woman has the right to decide what’s off-limits and what’s not, it’s the interpretation,” said one nurse.

The three women said they did not want to register a formal complaint that would trigger a sexual harassment investigation. Instead, Ohnemus said he and Dr. Bill Hamilton, vice-president of medical affairs, met with Field to issue a warning about potential disciplinary action if he did not stop the behavior.

Ohnemus and Hamilton said they did not question other staffers to learn if the problems with Field were more widespread.

“He more or less said he was sorry if something he said or did was misinterpreted and we would have no further problems with him,” said Ohnemus, who confirmed there had been no further complaints from nurses.

Tiffany Rager, a former surgery nurse at MCMC and one of Field’s victims, testified Tuesday that she resigned from her post in January 2010 because of the sexually inappropriate conversations and behavior going in MCMC’s operating rooms. She had begun working at the hospital in 2006 and said, after registering complaints about being uncomfortable with the work environment, she was harassed by other medical personnel. She said Dr. William Hamilton — then still a surgeon — condoned the environment, refused to work with her. He is a retired surgeon and now serves as vice-president of medical affairs at the hospital.

“It’s the type of situation where you either go with them or you go against them. If you go against them, you are on the outs,” said Rager.

Andrew Efaw, one of the attorneys defending the hospital, pointed out to the jury that Rager now works for a surgery center that is in direct competition with the hospital. Neither he, Robert Keating nor Patrick Eidenberg challenged her statements about the conduct of Hamilton.

Rager is the sole reported rape victim of Field, an incident that occurred March 14, 2008, after he gave her medicine for a headache that put her to sleep. The attack took place at the hospital’s on-call house, a residence where medical staff had to stay if they were working after-hours or on weekends and lived longer distances from the hospital.

Field’s DNA was found on the cushion of the sofa where Rager said the assault occurred and was a key piece of evidence used by prosecutors to obtain his admission of guilt in September 2012. He is currently serving 23 years in prison for the rape and 11 sexual assaults involving the other women involved in the criminal case.

Rager said she told another nurse, who was also a friend, that “something had happened” with Field but did not provide further details. Neither she nor the other woman reported that conversation to supervisors at the hospital. Two more of the five employees who were molested said they told a co-worker at least some of the details of abuse by Field but none of that information was relayed to administrators.

One of the employees said she was being treated by Field for complications related to the spinal block given to her in a surgery Jan. 18, 2010. She awoke after being sedated for severe nausea to find him holding her hand on his genitalia. When he saw that she was awake, the woman said he reached down to a syringe placed in her arm and pressed the plunger to release more medicine and she fell back asleep.

When Willie Gmeinder, one of three plaintiffs in the trial, reported Feb. 10, 2011, that Field had deliberately rubbed his crotch against her head during surgery and forced her to touch his genitals, Kafoury said administrators chose not to look at the collective evidence they did know about.

Dr. Mark McAllister reported to Hamilton that Gmeinder had complained about inappropriate touching and was told by him to relay the incident to Diane Storby, vice president of operations for MCMC. Several hours later, Field told McAllister over lunch that he had visited Gmeinder’s room after hearing of her complaint by a nurse and had told her that the medicine used to sedate her was known to cause sexual hallucinations.

In response to a question asked by Kafoury Oct. 9, Hamilton said in his more than 30 years of surgery, involving nearly 20,000 procedures, he had never heard of anesthesia causing that type of a side effect.

Field also told McAllister at lunch that a patient had filed a similar accusation against him during his medical residency, which was reported to Storby. In pre-trial testimony she said that admission had never been investigated.

Neither Hamilton nor Storby followed up with Gmeinder to discuss the exact nature of the complaints she recanted after Field’s visit.

Hamilton confirmed that he, Ohnemus, Duane Francis, MCMC chief executive officer, and Storby had met four times in May 2011 after a former employee came forward with a complaint of abuse during a 2007 surgery. She had told Dr. David Mack that she was uncomfortable with Field being her anesthesiologist in a subsequent surgery but had not provided further information about what had happened. Mack had not passed on that information to anyone due to a lack of information.

Hamilton and Ohnemus said under oath Oct. 9 that they were not briefed by Francis or Storby at the 2011 meetings about the 2008 incident or the potential problem with Field’s residency.

Hamilton said he did not know the extent of Gmeinder’s allegations. Ohnemus testified Wednesday that he learned of her complaints from media reports after Field’s arrest.

Only Storby and Francis held key pieces to the puzzle, said Kafoury, and they didn’t piece them together for other administrators or investigators.

“In those four meetings did Storby and Francis say, ‘We need to gather up everything we’ve got, every scrap of paper that has anything to do with Fred Field, the name of any potential witnesses, and give those to police. Did anyone ever say that?” Kafoury asked Hamilton, who replied “No.”

Kafoury suggested to Hamilton that Francis and Storby attempted to keep the details of Field’s activities from becoming public to protect MCMC from “hugely embarrassing and expensive” consequences.

Hamilton said he had never seen anyone at the hospital putting concerns about that type of threat above patient safety.

Kafoury conveyed to the jury, through the questioning of Hamilton and Ohnemus, that if Francis and Storby had been more forthcoming, many women might have been spared abuse.

In addition to Gmeinder, his firm is representing Erin Vance, who was molested during surgery Dec. 30, 2010. The third plaintiff in the current case is Sharon Hobbs, who was abused during surgery Jan. 3, 2011. She is represented by attorney Jan Wyers of Hood River.

Kafoury and McDougal have five other clients from the 12 who participated in the criminal case who are awaiting trial at a later date. Two suits brought by other attorneys were recently settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.

Attorney Thomas D’Amore of Portland is representing Nicole Aramejia, a patient formerly of Hood River who now lives in Minnesota who was molested by Field during a Jan. 26, 2010, surgery at MCMC.

The women involved in the current trial are each seeking $6 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.

Comments

fentonl 10 months, 1 week ago

From the "summary" section of a June 2003 (Vol.56, Issue 6, p.549-553) publication in Anaesthesia:

"Sexual hallucinations have been reported since the introduction of chloroform. Newer agents such as midazolam and propofol appear particularly prone to producing them. Some practitioners have been the victims of allegations resulting from the hallucinogenic effects of these drugs. Other individuals, including doctors, have used the amnesic effects of midazolam and other drugs to sexually assault victims."

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