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Francis: limited knowledge

Attorney Mark McDougal asked Duane Francis Friday how he could be the chief executive officer for Mid-Columbia Medical Center and know so little about what was taking place inside the hospital.

“When did you first learn the details [of a Jan. 5, 2008, abuse allegation]?” asked McDougal.

“I never did learn those details,” replied Francis of the molestation complaint registered by a surgery patient against Dr. Frederick Field, a former anesthesiologist. He gave the same answer about the Feb. 10, 2011, complaint by patient Willie Gmeinder and a Jan. 5, 2007, incident reported by Brenda Allen, a nurse, in late April 2011.

He admitted in court to not being fully aware of the details in a 2010 memo written by nurse Dick Ohnemus, who oversees the operating room, on behalf of medical staff. One of the employees referred to by Ohnemus testified that Field had fondled her breasts and buttocks without permission. She said a guard had been posted outside of the women’s changing room because of Field’s unexpected entrances.

Francis told jurors after taking the stand that he had been chief at MCMC since 2002 and had responsibility for about 900 full-time and part-time employees who worked in about 40 departments. He said about 180,000-200,000 patients visited one of MCMC’s eight to 10 health centers each year to seek medical attention.

McDougal said if Francis was capable enough to run that large of an institution, he was capable of figuring out that documentation of problems with Field should have been turned over to police. Francis said detectives had been given everything that they asked for in the most expedient manner possible.

“In all the meetings you had about this, did anyone [on the staff] say, ‘Let’s gather everything this institution has on Dr. Field, let’s get it all together, because we’re going to need it for the police?’” asked McDougal, to which Francis replied, “no.”

“Was this some ‘Well, if they don’t ask for it, they aren’t getting it’ approach?” asked McDougal.

“I’m not an expert in investigations,” replied Francis. “We were giving as much as we could and providing as much as we could.”

Andrew Efaw, one of three attorneys for the hospital, later asked Francis if it was possible for the head of the hospital to keep track of everything going on in all departments.

“It’s just not possible to have all the direct information all the time,” he replied, saying that was why administrative duties were delegated to department heads and supervisors.

McDougal showed jurors an MCMC newsletter from spring 2012 in which Francis wrote that it was “painful to endure not having the freedom to respond (to media reports about Field) with complete facts with our side of the story.”

“As of the day you sent that out, you didn’t have the complete facts, did you?” asked McDougal.

“You can’t say that,” answered Francis.

“You hadn’t seen the 2008 report, had you?” asked McDougal.

“I hadn’t seen it but it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist,” said Francis.

“You still hadn’t seen it at the time of your deposition (pre-trial testimony) in March 2013?” asked McDougal, to which Francis answered “No.”

The attorney said Francis sent out another email July 29, 2011, to tell employees about Field’s arrest and ask them to route any information they had to himself or Diane Storby, vice-president of operations, so it could be relayed to investigators.

“As of the day you sent that out, had the police been given a single document that pertained to Dr. Field?” asked McDougal.

“I don’t know,” said Francis and then the attorney ran down the list of possible documentation that could have been turned over to police and wasn’t until much later.

He suggested to Francis that perhaps the problem with divulging information had occurred because MCMC staff didn’t believe that Field had abused the women. He said some employees had testified to that fact during the three-week trial, which began Oct. 1.

“Some employees don’t believe, isn’t that right?” asked the attorney.

“I know there has been testimony given to that fact,” replied Francis.

He later told Efaw that he, personally, felt “horrible” after learning that there was enough evidence to arrest Field on July 28, 2011.

“I knew then that sociopath had attacked Mrs. Allen,” said Francis.

McDougal pointed out to jurors Oct. 18 that MCMC’s attorneys had not legally agreed to Field’s guilt until Sept. 30, the day before the trial began. He read from that document the names of 12 women, including the three plaintiffs in the trial, who had been part of the criminal case.

In September 2012, Field admitted to 11 counts of sex abuse, and one count of rape. He is currently serving a 23-year sentence in prison.

“This is an amended response, your institution didn’t admit it at first, did it?” asked McDougal.

“I don’t know,” replied Francis.

McDougal said Francis and Storby failed to act even after reading the “chilling message” in an anonymous letter given to them in April 2011 by the husband of Allen, who later reported molestation during a 2007 surgery. Those words were: “Please, if there’s ever a hint of such a thing happening to another woman, PLEASE BELIEVE HER!”

Instead, McDougal said Francis chose not to acquire details about past reports and Storby claimed not to remember that the 2008 complaint of molestation by a patient was similar to the accusations registered by Gmeinder in 2011.

Gmeinder claimed to have been forced by Field to touch his genitalia after he rubbed his crotch in her face. The woman in 2008 reported that the anesthesiologist had pinched her breasts before forcing her to touch his genitals.

Francis said detectives were briefed about these reports but did not seek more information. McDougal referred to police reports and pre-trial testimony given by Francis and Storby in which the allegations were referred to as “inappropriate touching.” The attorney claims investigators did not ask for more information because the allegations had been downplayed.

He said the administrators also did not give police details about Field’s sexual harassment of medical staff in 2010.

Francis said he did not learn the nature of the staff complaints until the trial began. He said Dr. William Hamilton, vice-president of medical affairs, had informed him that Field had been warned to cease “inappropriate language and banter” or face disciplinary action.

McDougal asked Francis how he could make the promise to The Dalles Police Capt. Ed Goodman that he would keep patients safe while the investigation into Field’s activities was taking place in 2011, when he was unaware of what the potential threat was.

“At a certain point, you made a promise to Brenda Allen, a promise to police and the community that you would watch over Fred Field, did you not?” asked McDougal.

“To the degree it was possible,” answered Francis.

He said there were no more reports of patients being molested at the hospital after he made the promise to make sure Field was never alone with a patient who had been sedated. And because he made sure the investigation was kept secret from Field, the anesthesiologist had admitted abuse in a recorded phone conversation with Allen and been subsequently arrested.

McDougal then referred to the testimony given by the mother of a teenage patient about being asked by Field to leave him alone with the girl in June 2011. She was uncomfortable enough to stand just outside the curtain around the bed instead of leaving the hospital room as directed. She heard Field questioning her daughter about what she remembered from surgery, which has made her wonder if the teen was also victimized.

McDougal reminded Francis that a female employee was abused by Field at the hospital’s on-call house July 24, 2011, four days before the arrest.

His partner Gregory Kafoury had pointed out earlier in the trial that Field worked with 1,274 patients between the January 2008 incident, the first known about, and July 27, 2011, his last day at work.

It was possible, said Kafoury, that more women had been abused but not wanted to come forward for a variety of reasons.

“We did nothing to help Fred Field with the crimes he committed,” Francis told jurors after taking the stand.

Gmeinder, Erin Vance and Sharon Hobbs, the three plaintiffs in the trial, are seeking $18 million in punitive and compensatory damages from the hospital. They are also suing Francis and Storby personally for engaging in a cover-up that led to their abuse. Vance was molested during surgery on Dec. 30, 2010 and Hobbs on Jan. 3, 2011.

Assisting McDougal and Kafoury in the trial is Jason Kafoury, also of Portland, and Hobbs’ attorney Jan Wyers of Hood River. Efaw, who practices out of Colorado, is joined on the hospital’s legal team by Robert Keating and Peter Eidenberg, both of Portland.

“You know that we are suing you for what you should have known?” McDougal asked Francis in a rhetorical question at the start of his cross-examination.

Storby has been accused of trying to discredit Allen as a witness after she met with police in spring 2011. Francis is accused of trying to intimidate her from going to police in the first place.

McDougal said Francis arranged to meet Allen on May 10, 2011, in the office of Jim Habberstad, the attorney for MCMC, who was also present. She was then informed by Francis that the hospital would not file a complaint against Field due to the possibility of the anesthesiologist retaliating with a “defamation” lawsuit. Francis then offered to let Allen meet with Habberstad alone to further discuss that issue before she initiated a police investigation.

Francis told Efaw that he had offered to meet Allen anywhere she was comfortable but she did not suggest an alternate location. He said the attorney’s office was chosen for the meeting because it was away from the hospital campus and afforded greater privacy than his highly visible office would have.

Efaw played the recording secretly taped by Allen during the conversation with Francis in which he urges her to file a police report four different times and repeatedly offers sympathy and support.

McDougal interpreted the recording differently. He said Francis was still trying to control the situation when he offered to set up a “confidential” meeting between Allen and Police Capt. Ed Goodman to discuss her options.

“Mr. Francis, did you squelch that report because you felt it was going to be too embarrassing and expensive for the hospital?” asked McDougal, to which Francis replied, “No, I did not.”

Francis told jurors he was the one to initiate contact with police by briefing Goodman about the possibility of a sex abuse report coming his way. He said after meeting with Allen he immediately went to see Goodman to arrange for her to meet with a detective.

“My intent was to take it to the highest level I could in order to impress upon them that we felt this was an important matter,” said Francis.

McDougal countered that Francis told detectives that Allen actually being abused by Field was “improbable on a huge scale.”

McDougal said police were not readily given information about Gmeinder’s complaint until after Field’s arrest. And it was months after the criminal case began before the patient’s report from 2008 was found. He said, even then, it did not immediately get delivered to detectives.

The jury was shown video clips by McDougal of Francis making disparate comments between early police reports and pre-trial testimony in March. Francis said he realized during the trial that some of his statements in March were not accurate. He said one of the sessions to answer questions had taken place after a business trip when he was trying to play catch-up at work. He had been tired and his thoughts distracted, said Francis, but there had been no intent to portray information incorrectly.

“Prior to trial, it never occurred to you that you were giving police junk info or misinformation?” asked McDougal.

“It never occurred to me, no,” replied Francis.

“If a manager at Burger King told police wrong information, do you think he’s keeping his job?” asked McDougal, which raised an objection from Efaw that was sustained by Judge Paul Crowley.

Francis ended the hours he had spent on the stand over a two-day period by saying, “With every fiber of my being, it is my goal not to let a deviant psychopath like Fred Field define this remarkable institution for which I work.”

Closing arguments will be given by the plaintiffs and defendants at 9 a.m. Monday and then the jury will begin deliberations.

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