The Dalles Diane Storby, vice-president of operations at Mid-Columbia Medical Center, was asked Thursday why she hadn’t asked police to investigate a patient’s sex abuse complaint in 2008.
“I did not really know I was dealing with a crime at that time. It was my job to substantiate it,” she said.
Attorney Gregory Kafoury referred to a taped statement made by Duane Francis, chief executive officer, as the basis for that question. He said the allegations made against Dr. Frederick Field, an anesthesiologist, in January 2008 were similar to the complaint brought forward by Willie Gmeinder, one of his clients, in February 2011.
Kafoury said Francis in May 2011 had assured Brenda Allen, a nurse who reported molestation during a 2007 surgery, that a police agency was better equipped to handle the investigation than hospital officials.
“Can you agree that in January of 2008, had you invited the police to investigate the incident with (name of victim withheld by request), things might have been much different?” asked Kafoury, to which Storby replied, “No.”
The attorney on the legal team suing the hospital on behalf of Gmeinder and Erin Vance, a victim from December 2010, pointed out that 12 women had been involved in the criminal case against Field. Sharon Hobbs, a victim from January 2011, is also a plaintiff in the trial. She is represented by attorney Jan Wyers of Hood River.
Field pleaded guilty to 11 counts of sex abuse and one rape in September 2012 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Kafoury said the number of victims could possibly have been reduced to Allen in 2007 and the patient from 2008 if Storby had “chosen a different fork in the road.” He named each of the victims and the date of their abuse before asking if she was aware each incident.
“Dr. Field has pleaded guilty to that, correct,” she answered to each question.
Kafoury said Storby could also have chosen the path of piecing together information about Field’s activities that would have raised red flags and led to earlier intervention. For example, his verbal discipline in 2010 for fondling nurses and showing up unexpectedly in their dressing rooms.
If Gmeinder had been questioned more closely, or administrators had become suspicious that her accusations were recanted after Field visited her room, it might have prevented him from molesting a co-worker in July 2011.
Kafoury said Field told another doctor over lunch on the day Gmeinder complained that he had been accused of inappropriate touching in his medical residency, which was never investigated. If that had happened, he said the later abuse might never have happened.
“Did you consider the possibility it might be a third accusation?” asked Kafoury of Storby.
“No I did not,” she said.
Storby told Kafoury that she thought Field had been referring to the 2008 allegation at MCMC when he raised the issue of a past accusation over lunch with Dr. Marc McAllister.
Kafoury pointed out that detectives had documented Storby’s reference to the location of Field’s two residencies, which showed that she had known of possible abuse in another medical center.
“That does suggest that you know, doesn’t it?” he said after reading the police report.
“Yes, it suggests it very clearly,” she answered.
Storby told jurors that she could not proceed with the 2008 investigation after the complainant refused to return phone calls and letters. She said Gmeinder in 2011 had declined to speak with her after withdrawing her allegations.
Kafoury then spent more than one hour dissecting Storby’s investigation into the 2008 phone call by a woman who claimed that Field had pinched her breasts during surgery and forced her to put her hand on his genitals. Storby’s assistant, Lois Shetterly, received that call and testified earlier in the trial, which began Oct. 1, that she reported the details immediately to her boss. She described the news as “shocking” and said she was “blown away” by what she had heard and knew that it had to be taken seriously.
“You discussed the potential risk to other patients if this was true?” asked Kafoury.
“I don’t have a recollection of that,” replied Storby.
“It would have to be an obvious concern, wouldn’t it?” asked the attorney.
“I’m not sure of that,” said Storby.
She said a nurse and surgical scrub tech had been in the operating room during the patient’s surgery in 2008 and, when questioned, said “It did not happen.” They referred to Field’s professionalism and the lack of opportunity for abuse to occur without detection in an operating room where four to six people work. One of them also brought up the fact that some types of anesthesia can cause sexual dreams.
Kafoury asked Storby if the documentation presented to reflect the conversation with the second employee was, in actuality, part of a conversation with the first. She denied adding the second employee’s name to a page with several lines on it and insisted that it was independently dated. Kafoury then showed her the handwritten note that had no date and an awkward third person reference to the name of the second employee inserted into what were portrayed as her remarks.
The issue was raised by Kafoury after the second employee testified that she had seen Storby taking copious notes during their conversation and did not recognize the ones that had been presented.
Kafoury said Storby’s documentation from 2008 was sparing and included very little detail: “Nothing inappropriate observed,” “Very professional” “Keeps person’s dignity,” and a few similar comments.
“Don’t you think they are pretty general?” asked Kafoury.
“I think they are pretty specific,” replied Storby.
The attorney asked the administrator how far Field had been standing from the table during the surgery and how much flexibility was in the arm board that might have allow him to gain access to the patient’s hand. He also asked how high the table was to determine if it would have been possible for Field to put the woman’s hand on his genitalia, or if her arm could be unstrapped from the board without anyone noticing. Storby could not answer his questions.
“Throughout the investigation, these might have been the kind of questions I would ask,” said Kafoury.
Storby later explained to Robert Keating, attorney for the hospital, that she would have undertaken another round of questioning in her investigation if the patient had returned one of five phone calls or responded to a letter sent to her Goldendale address.
Kafoury brought up the testimony of Dr. Burns, head anesthesiologist at the hospital, whom Storby claimed to have spoken with about the 2008 incident and possibility of drug-induced hallucinations.
“He says that conversation never happened,” said Kafoury.
“I don’t have notes of that conversation but I spoke to Dr. Burns,” Storby said.
Kafoury asked why she had documented nothing about confronting Field about the patient’s complaint. She said he had twice denied the allegations, but could not give a reason why she did not write that information down.
“Did you think it would have been reasonable and appropriate for Dr. Field to have told you he’d done it?” asked Keating after Kafoury finished grilling Storby.
“Yes, I did,” she replied.
At one point in the examination, Kafoury asked her, “Looking back to that January, do you have any criticism of your own investigation?”
She replied, “I did the best I could do at the time. I don’t have any criticism of the investigation.”
Storby said she had assumed the patient from 2008 did not want to move forward with her complaint and had shelved the investigation.
Kafoury said the patient was not called by Storby until 14 days after the initial report, which could have led her to believe the hospital wasn’t taking the complaint seriously. He said the woman testified that she had returned Storby’s call but had been treated badly and told that nothing was going to happen to Field, so she had given up pursuing the matter.
Storby denied ever speaking with the patient and referred to the woman’s pre-trial statement that she had spoken with the “same woman” as the first time, recognizing that individual by voice. Shetterly denied receiving a second call and the patient later told detectives she recognized the name “Diane” when looking at a list of female administrators.
In October 2011, Police Detective Sean Lundry met with Storby and said he was going to try to obtain phone records from the residence of the patient from 2008 to resolve the issue. Kafoury said Storby is then recorded as saying, “I’m not saying the call didn’t happen, I just don’t remember it happening.” The hospital switchboard system does not track incoming calls so Lundry could not obtain information from that source.
“I never talked with (name of victim),” Storby stated firmly while on the stand Thursday.
Kafoury asked why she had not provided Lundry and Police Det. Sgt. Dan Nelson with information about Gmeinder’s allegation before Field’s arrest on July 28, 2011. Or why law enforcement officials were not notified about the nurses’ complaints in 2010.
He reminded her that Nelson had testified last week that, at some point, he began to think the hospital was being “less than forthcoming” with information.
Storby said the nursing staff’s complaint against Field was an internal matter, and not one she was given information about. She said after three years, she could not remember the name of the patient or date of the incident so she could not locate the documentation to give Nelson, although she had mentioned that accusation to him.
In pre-trial testimony Storby stated that she had not “gone back” as far as 2008 in the search of storage boxes in the basement of the hospital. Kafoury pointed out that year would have been the beginning of the search because the hospital had computerized its Unusual Occurrence Report system in 2008.
Storby told Keating that she had meant “gone back” from a starting point in 2005.
Kafoury said Storby had also claimed to have been searching for the report with a co-worker, but that woman testified that she had not undertaken that task. In addition, he said Shetterly testified that she had been retired when the search first began but would have known where the paperwork was since she had taken it down to the storage room. She said Storby never asked for her assistance.
“If in fact you really were looking for that file in 2011, then it might have been helpful to simply call and ask her,” said Kafoury.
Upon returning to work in November 2011 to fill in for another employee on maternity leave, Shetterly said she was asked about the 2008 patient’s file and immediately went to the basement and retrieved it. That documentation was included in a shipment of paperwork to Keating’s office as part of the preparation for the current trial. He then provided the report to Kafoury who turned it over to investigators in Wasco County to be used as evidence in Field’s criminal case.
Kafoury asked Storby why, when it had been found, the report was not immediately given to Nelson.
“Did it cross your mind this might be of use to police in the investigation?” he asked.
“It didn’t cross my mind, Mr. Field was in jail by that time,” said Storby.
She told Keating that she had responded quickly to any request for information from detectives. Kafoury said Gmeinder’s complaint had not been made known to Nelson until after Field’s arrest on Jan. 28, 2011. He said Storby and Francis had wanted to look cooperative after that occurred so they had alerted Gmeinder and investigators about that incident.
Storby and Francis have given pre-trial testimony that they had referenced Gmeinder’s complaint at the start of the investigation into Field’s behavior. They did not provide Nelson with any documentation.
The plaintiffs in the trial are seeking $18 million in punitive and compensatory damages from the hospital, and suing both Storby and Francis personally for negligence. Their attorneys contend the administrators engaged in a cover-up of Field’s abuse to protect the hospital from liability.
Keating asked Storby how it felt to be “demonized” and portrayed as a “heartless, soulless woman,” by Wyers and attorneys from Kafoury and McDougal. He had to withdraw the question because it did not fit within allowable perimeters.
“Why did you enter a career in health care?” he substituted.
“That’s the only thing I’ve done, the only thing I want to do,” said Storby who came to MCMC in 1997 and has almost 45 years in the field.