Doctor's trust


About the Series

We've heard a lot in recent months about sexual abuse by teachers, priests and others in positions of authority. But what about doctors? The Eyewitness News Investigators spent several months combing through hundreds of state medical records. They found sexual misconduct happens more than you might think. And some doctors disciplined for sex-related offenses are still allowed to practice.

This story was reported by Richard Reeve, photographed and edited by Bill Ditton and produced by Gerry Lanosga.

Part One

Doctors take an oath to put patients first. Among the responsibilities: avoiding sexual contact with patients. But that doesn’t always happen.

"It's a crime of power and control, and doctors have ultimate power over their patient," said Anita Carpenter, a sexual abuse victims’ advocate.

An Eyewitness News Investigation found the state medical licensing board has punished at least 30 doctors for sexual misconduct. The files describe offenses ranging from inappropriate sexual relationships to molesting, even rape.

What's more, eight of those doctors are still practicing medicine – still treating patients despite the sex-related offenses in their past.

Among them: Dr. Willard Hagenmeyer of Warsaw, accused of molesting teenage patients during physical examinations during the mid-1990s.

"I wasn't sure how to stop him or how he would react if I said, ‘Should you be doing this to me?’ so I let it go," said one of the former patients, who asked not to be identified.

She went to Hagenmeyer's Warsaw clinic for a school physical when she was 16. She says she was shocked when he asked her about sex and touched her in ways she considered inappropriate.

"He was checking my heart and went underneath my dress, underneath my bra and touching my breast," she said, "and then when he did the stomach check he went further down than my stomach, touching my pubic bone and further down."

Several others also accused Hagenmeyer of inappropriate touching. A jury found him guilty of molesting and sexual misconduct, but his conviction was overturned because of a trial court error. Still, state regulators suspended his license, saying his conduct was lewd and immoral.

After all that, you might think Dr. Hagenmeyer would be banned from the practice of medicine. But he wasn't. He got his license back three years ago after a one-year suspension. We found Hagenmeyer working at an acupuncture clinic in Elkhart.

"All I can say is that I did conduct myself appropriately in those physical examinations," Hagenmeyer told Eyewitness News.

Hagenmeyer has always maintained innocence. He said his side of the story was drowned out by small town hysterics and overzealous authorities.

"If everything that happened is predicated on one little falsehood, one little lie, then everything after that, everything that follows, is also a lie," he said.

Hagenmeyer has a long list of defenses: that prosecutors essentially advertised for victims in the newspaper, that one victim recanted, that he passed a polygraph test, that he had expert testimony about his examination techniques.

"This kind of thing takes on a life of its own," he said. "The truth gets whisked away in the story and in other people's agendas."

In the end, the licensing board ruled that Hagenmeyer touched several patients "without medical purpose" – touching he did not do in similar exams when patients' parents were there.

"He was proven that what he did was wrong and the medical review board saw it that way, so why is he practicing again?" the former patient said.

And Hagenmeyer's isn't the only such case.

Trivandrum Ramaswamy is an Anderson psychiatrist. He was accused of carrying on sexual relationships with several patients in the early 1990s. Janet Klingler was one.

"I knew something was wrong, but who do you go tell?" Klingler said. "What do you do?"

Klingler said the drugs Ramaswamy prescribed for her made her especially vulnerable to the sexual pressures he exerted.

"When you go to a doctor, you put all your trust in him," she said. "If you think you have cancer, whatever, he's there. He's almost like God to protect you."

Ramaswamy denied any sexual misconduct, but the board suspended his license a year for not disclosing he paid Klingler to settle her claim.

Today, he’s back at work at his Anderson psychiatry practice.

Victims' advocates say allowing doctors who commit misconduct to keep practicing hurts the integrity of the profession.

"The fact that they have a victim history and that they can prey upon the vulnerabilities of people who are in dire need is just deplorable," Carpenter said.

Dr. John Mulcahy of the IU Medical Center has informally consulted on sexual misconduct cases.

"They've got a patient who's a victim, they have power, they're abusing that power, and they're assaulting these patients in an inappropriate way," he said. "So that is a predator."

But Mulcahy said that while doctors should be held to a higher standard, they should also get a second chance if they pose no threat.

"We hopefully can give these guys (psychological) treatment," he said.

But victims say the question still remains: How can doctors who commit sexual misconduct ever be trusted again?

"It makes me wonder how the system works, and how someone is able to do that," said Hagenmeyer’s former patient.

Said Janet Klingler: "Doctors should not be allowed to fondle their patients.... The doctor is there to take care of you, not for his own personal pleasure."

Part Two

Hospitals and doctors offices are supposed to be places of healing. But what happens when doctors commit sexual misconduct?

Victims advocates say it’s a violation of trust.

"I think that they're probably one of the most dangerous types of sexual predators that are there," said Anita Carpenter of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or INCASA.

An Eyewitness News investigation found Indiana licensing officials have disciplined at least 30 doctors for sex-related offenses.

"We don't want to think that somebody who's supposed to be doing something good is doing something bad," said INCASA’s Wendy Haeufle.

But it happens. The state's medical licensing files document everything from inappropriate relationships to molesting to rape. And eight of those disciplined doctors are still treating patients.

Some of the disciplined doctors are well-known, like Deborah Provisor, who pleaded guilty to child molesting, or Pravin Thakkar, convicted of performing forced abortions on patients he impregnated.

But some cases may never come to light.

"It's very difficult to know that he's still walking around, maybe victimizing somebody else," said one Indianapolis woman who asked not to be identified.

She went to an area hospital for emergency surgery two years ago.

"Next thing I know, I'm waking up and this man's doing really bad things to me," she said.

It was a sexual assault by a doctor on the surgical team, she said – right in the hospital recovery room. Minutes after it happened – and still dazed from the surgery – she insisted on leaving. She didn't even tell her husband what happened.

"For a couple months I basically just went insane, because I didn't know what to do about it," she said. "I didn't know who to tell."

Two months later, urged on by a friend, she made a police report. But without physical evidence, prosecutors couldn't file charges.

"I don't want anybody else to become a victim," she said. "I really want this man to go to jail. I think prison is the only place for him."

But according to Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Public Citizen Health Group, only about one in 10 doctors who commits sexual misconduct ever gets caught.

"Most of them are getting away with it for at least a reasonable amount of time," he said. "The public needs to be much more aware that this is going on. Those doctors who are perpetrating this need to be really flushed out and disciplined very severely."

Wolfe co-wrote a study that found 761 doctors disciplined for sexual misconduct across the country. And he found nearly 40 percent of them still practicing years later.

"The disciplinary actions are often slaps on the wrist, fines, reprimands of various kinds, not really consistent with the severity of what the doctor did," Wolfe said.

Sometimes they don't get punished at all.

William Gist is a OB/GYN with a practice in Anderson.

But when he was a resident physician at a Detroit hospital 10 years ago, a Michigan woman accused him of sexual abuse while she was a patient there.

In a lawsuit, Gist admitted having sex repeatedly with her in the doctor's lounge. Both he and the hospital argued the relationship was consensual and was not in the context of a doctor-patient relationship.

But the hospital did acknowledge that Gist consulted on her treatment at least once.

Gist told us the woman wasn't his patient.

"She was not a patient of mine, she was not," he said. "She was a friend and went to church with me."

Michigan licensing authorities have no record of the case. So when Gist moved to Indiana, he got a license based on a clean disciplinary report from Michigan.

When we asked Gist if he would consider it wrong for a doctor to have sex with a patient, he wouldn’t say.

"I’ve answered your questions," he said.

But remember, Gist saw the woman as a patient at least once. And the American Medical Association spells it out very clearly: any sexual activity between a doctor and a patient – even a patient of another doctor at the same facility – constitutes sexual misconduct.

"Sexual jokes, sexual intercourse, dating between doctor and patient – none of that is appropriate," said Wolfe of Public Citizen.

Even critics of the disciplinary process acknowledge that most doctors are doing a good job in the practice of medicine. But they say society has to do a better job of dealing with those who aren't.

"It's psychologically devastating," Wolfe said. "The studies that have been done on women who've been sexually abused by their doctors show an enormous amount of depression, suicide, and long-lasting adverse impacts."

Victims say they don’t need to see studies, because they know the pain firsthand.

"This is something that people don't want to believe, but it happened," said the Indianapolis woman. "I wish it didn't happen, I really wish it didn't happen. Because the last two years of my life have been hell."