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Lawsuit testimony ends this week

Judge Paul Crowley told jurors Wednesday that closing arguments for the civil trial involving Mid-Columbia Medical Center and three plaintiffs would take place Monday.

“We are going over into next week,” he informed the 15 jurors, including three alternates, gathered in the Wasco County courtroom. The composition of the jury is five men and 10 women.

The attorneys from the legal team representing three women who were victimized by Dr. Frederick Field will be the first to wind up their case Oct. 21. One or two attorneys for the hospital will then make final arguments, which one of the plaintiff’s lawyers will rebut before the jury is sequestered for deliberations.

Their verdict will decide if a total $18 million in compensatory and punitive damages or a lesser amount, if any, should be awarded to Willie Gmeinder, Erin Vance and Sharon Hobbs. The three women were involved in the criminal case against Field, a former anesthesiologist at the hospital.

In September 2012 he pleaded guilty to not only their molestation but that of nine other women and the rape of a co-worker. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Many of Field’s victims, including those with trials pending in the future, have either testified in the trial that began Oct. 1 or been present to watch the proceedings. The victims are all ages and sizes, which has led their attorneys to believe that Field did not have a “type,” that he selected victims based on opportunity.

If the jury awards punitive damages, they are sending a message to MCMC that reforms need to take place at the institution to prevent future wrongdoing, said attorney Jason Kafoury. Sixty percent of those funds would go to the state and the remaining money would be shared by the victims and attorneys. Compensation given to the victims by the jury, if any, is intended to offset their economic loss or injury.

Gmeinder and Vance are represented in the suit by a father-son team, attorneys Gregory and Jason Kafoury, as well as partner Mark McDougal. Hobbs is the client of attorney Jan Wyers of Hood River.

Portland attorneys Robert Keating and Peter Eidenberg have joined Andrew Efaw of Colorado to defend the hospital and its two top administrators. Duane Francis, chief executive officer, and Diane Storby, vice-president of operations who handles risk management issues, are being sued personally and accused of engaging in a cover-up of Field’s activities to protect the hospital from liability.

Keating put Storby on the stand Wednesday afternoon to testify and she will be cross-examined today, Oct. 17, by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. (See the Friday edition of The Chronicle for coverage of Storby’s statements and cross-examination.) Francis could also be called upon to take the stand, a decision that will be made by his attorneys.

Last Friday, the plaintiffs rested their case and this week the respondents have worked to show that reasonable steps were taken to deal with the known complaints of Field’s behavior.

John McGinty, a hospital health care consultant, took the stand Wednesday to tell jurors that MCMC had handled the situation in the right way. He said hospitals do not operate like other private and public agencies where a chief executive can make all of the hiring and firing decisions.

He said a Medical Executive Committee has to be presented with documentation about a doctor’s misconduct to initiate the process that can result in disciplinary action or termination. Once that body has come up with a recommendation, the matter is presented to the hospital board of directors for a decision.

McGinty holds a master’s degree in hospital administration and was flown from Columbus, Ind., to Oregon to educate the jury about the governance of medical institutions.

McDougal suggested through questioning that other competent administrators, such as the chief for the Hood River hospital, could have been asked to present that information. He then asked McGinty how much had been paid by MCMC for his trip and time in the courtroom. The answer of the expert witness was $6,000 per day plus coverage of his flight and other expenses.

Under Keating’s questioning, he said the protocols set up by MCMC to handle issues with medical staff were “thorough, comprehensive” and met the standards set by state and federal regulators.

He said physicians practicing at the hospitals were granted privileges in 34 different specialties and subspecialties. These practice areas were reviewed at least every two years to determine if changes needed to be made.

According to McGinty, if administrators wanted to discipline Field or suspend his privileges, they had to compile evidence of “adverse actions” to justify that move. He said without willing witnesses in two of the cases known to the hospital prior to his arrest, one in 2008 and the other from early 2011, there was nothing that could be done. And detectives requested that Storby and Francis keep the investigation confidential when a molestation claim was made in the spring of 2011, so they could not take action.

McGinty said hospital leaders did not know about Vance’s abuse on Dec. 30, 2010, or Hobb’s abuse on Jan. 3, 2011, because they did not come forward until after Field’s arrest July 28, 2011. And Gmeinder recanted her accusations against Field on Feb. 10, 2011, after he visited her room. Storby’s documentation about that incident shows that Field informed Gmeinder that drugs used to sedate her had caused sexual hallucinations, then she withdrew her complaint.

“Based on your knowledge, understanding and experience, did the hospital have sufficient information, based on those incidents, to take information to medical staff to remove those (Field’s) privileges?” asked Keating, to which McGinty said “no.”

He said the actions of Francis and Storby were “reasonable and appropriate” given the availability of facts when Brenda Allen, an employee who came forward in May 2011 to report abuse during a surgery in 2008, initiated the police investigation. If the administrators had moved forward without the proper documentation, he said Field could have legally challenged their actions.

McDougal had McGinty read from the bylaws that allow review of a physician’s conduct to take place for “disputed behavior” or “inappropriate conduct.” He pointed out that several female employees from the operating room staff had registered complaints about being fondled by Field, or having him walk unexpectedly into their dressing rooms.

When McGinty replied that none of these women had wanted to file a formal complaint, McDougal countered that nurse Dick Ohnemus, who oversees the operating room, had done so on their behalf. And that a verbal warning had been given to Field in the presence of Dr. William Hamilton, vice-president of medical affairs.

If all of these pieces of an abuse puzzle had been added together, he said, instead of an attempt made to disregard or cover-up the facts, the hospital could have prevented a “sexual predator” from roaming its halls.

McGinty said Field’s harassment of staffers was an “internal” matter for the hospital to handle and administrators had notified authorities about criminal behavior. McDougal pointed out that touching the breasts of a co-worker without her permission was a criminal act.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that Francis and Storby had knowledge of Field’s behavior in 2008 and failed to take action that would have prevented their three clients from being molested several years later.

In pre-trial testimony, Storby said she tried numerous times to reach the patient who telephoned in an abuse complaint against Field in 2008. She said operating room staff and the anesthesiologist were interviewed but no action would be taken when phone calls to the women were not returned and a certified letter sent to her home was returned unsigned. A letter sent by regular mail was not returned but was not answered.

The victim in the 2008 incident, who was involved in the criminal case, testified last week that she had returned Storby’s call. She said the administrator was “rude” during the conversation and told her that Field had “excellent credentials” and the abuse had never happened.

Keating pointed out to jurors that the woman could not remember the exact name of the hospital official she spoke with. Both Storby and her former assistant, who took the original message, deny getting a second call from the victim.

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