Monthly Archives: November 2011

Patients say that psych hospital staff covered up sexual assaults

The Mental Health Minister of Victoria, Australia, Mary Wooldridge, has asked her department to investigate Eastern Health’s (a health care provider in Melbourne, Australia)  handling of a series of sexual assault complaints that former psychiatric patients allege have been covered up.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson also yesterday urged mental health patients with concerns about Eastern Health’s response to complaints of sexual assault to contact her office.

The Age has recently reported several cases involving female mental health patients who have reported being raped or sexually assaulted while under the care of Eastern Health and its Maroondah psychiatric unit.

The former patients have claimed they were pressured by Eastern Health staff to forget about the alleged incidents, including one where a male nurse was accused of sexually harassing a young woman under his care.

In some cases examined by The Age, police were not called and the parents of a teenage girl who was sexually interfered with while admitted to an Eastern Health facility were not notified.

A spokesman for Ms Wooldridge last night told The Age the Department of Health had been asked to examine the specific circumstances of the cases reported by The Age.

Eastern Health has denied it has a problem with managing sexual assault complaints from psychiatric patients.

But Ms Wilson said patients with mental illnesses were ”especially vulnerable and require special protection”.

As Health Services Commissioner, Ms Wilson is empowered by legislation to investigate patient complaints about health services and to provide policy advice.

Asked if an investigation into Eastern Health’s handling of sexual assault complaints from psychiatric patients was required, she said: ”I would be in a better position to answer this question if I had direct contact with patients who have made the reports.

”I understand the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist is following up some issues and practices at Eastern Health. If any patients or their carers want to contact my office I encourage them to do so.”

Victoria’s Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said she had concerns about the lack of safety for women in mixed-sex adult acute psychiatric wards.

Source: Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie, “Sex assault silence leads to Eastern Health probe,” The Age, November 22, 2011.

Board suspends psychiatrist Charles Fischer; says 9 children accused him of sexual abuse

The Texas Medical Board on Tuesday temporarily suspended the medical license of a child psychiatrist accused of sexually abusing his mentally ill patients. Documents filed as part of the board’s decision show that Dr. Charles Fischer was accused of abuse by at least nine youths, a number higher than previously reported, and added details about the allegations.

In its unscheduled hearing, the medical board ordered Fischer to stop practicing medicine until further notice because he presented “a continuing threat to the public welfare.” Texas Medical Board spokeswoman Leigh Hopper described the action as similar to a temporary restraining order.

“It’s definitely an extreme measure,” she said. “You have to have a certain level of evidence.”

Although Fischer has not been charged with any crime, four law enforcement agencies are conducting a joint investigation into his case: the Texas Rangers, the attorney general’s office, the Austin Police Department and the Office of Inspector General for the Health and Human Services Commission.

His lawyer, Antonio Cobos , did not return calls Tuesday. He has said previously that Fischer “vehemently” denies all the claims against him.

Hopper said that the board takes such action about a dozen times a year, typically when a physician has a substance abuse problem or has been criminally charged.

During the hearing, a three-member panel makes “findings of fact,” which, while based on evidence presented to the panel, are not considered the same as facts in a court of law. Fischer will be given the chance to appeal the ruling.

Fischer, 59 , is accused of sexually abusing children while working at Austin State Hospital. After a five-month investigation, the state Department of Family and Protective Services told hospital officials in October that it had confirmed two cases of sexual abuse against hospital patients. The agency, which investigates claims of abuse in state facilities, terms a case “confirmed” if the preponderance of evidence indicates the allegations are true.

During the investigation, Fischer was permitted to continue working with children. Supervisors restricted his conduct with patients, ordering him not to, among other things, touch any patients or provide counseling behind closed doors. When the protective services agency confirmed the two abuse cases in October, Fischer was immediately placed on leave and fired Nov. 14.

The two cases are the only ones that the protective services agency has confirmed to date.

The medical board’s order added new details to a case in which specifics have so far been scarce because of the sensitivity of the allegations and patient privacy laws.

According to the medical board’s order of temporary suspension, seven Austin State Hospital patients between the ages of 13 and 17 made allegations against Fischer between 2001 and 2006 . A Travis County grand jury heard accusations of sexual abuse of a child against Fischer in 2002 but did not bring charges against him.

An eighth accusation described in medical board documents came from a 16-year-old patient who said he was abused in 1992 at the Waco Center for Youth, a state-run psychiatric facility for children up to 18.

“We have no formal record of him working at Waco Center for Youth, but we think (Austin State Hospital) informally loaned him to the center on a part-time basis for a period of time in the early 1990s ,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services, which oversees the hospitals. “We are looking into it.”

A ninth patient accused Fischer of abuse when he was working at the Southwest Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Antonio, the order said. Although the order does not identify a year, Fischer worked at the center from 1982 to 1984 as a child psychiatry resident, according to licensing documents filed with the medical board.

Some patients had been sexually abused by family members, according to the suspension order. A prepared statement issued by the board said all of them were male.

The board’s order has graphic descriptions of the purported sexual abuse. Most involve fondling and oral sex.

“These allegations are, frankly, devastating to us,” Williams said.

The order also said the incidents occurred in Fischer’s office, where, according to the medical board documents, he shut and locked the door when seeing patients.

In response to the unfolding case against Fischer, state officials late last week released new rules for mental health professionals at the state hospital. Those mandates include keeping therapy doors unlocked during sessions and only providing individual treatment services in rooms with windows or other locations where professionals can be directly observed by other employees.

The department also ruled that staffers under investigation for sexual abuse must be transferred to another unit or placed on emergency leave.

Fischer also has worked for other mental health organizations, the medical board order shows: Central Counties MHMR, which, according to its website, provides mental health services to five Central Texas counties; and Lutheran Social Services, an Austin-based nonprofit group that runs residential treatment centers for troubled children.

Lutheran Social Services spokesman Scott Carroll said that Fischer was never an employee but a contractor who provided psychiatric services to youths at its Canyon Lake and Corpus Christi facilities.

Carroll said records show Fischer worked for the nonprofit before 1999; however, it doesn’t have details because those records have since been destroyed. None of the current employees at those residential treatment centers worked there at the time, he said.

“We know of no evidence in our possession that would indicate any wrongdoing of any kind by Dr. Fischer while he was at our facilities,” Carroll said.

Source: Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer, “Psychiatrist’s license suspended; medical board cites up to 9 claims of child sex abuse,” Austin American-Statesman, November 22, 2011.

South African psychology board: Sexual harrassment complaints on the rise

The most recent “Psychology News” newsletter issued by the Health Professions Council of South Africa featured this brief item:

Complaints of sexual harassment on the increase

The HPCSA is concerned about the apparent increase in the number of sexually related complaints lodged
against healthcare practitioners.

Council has been investigating numerous cases so far this year and there has been an alarming increase in
the amount of cases that have gone on to a formal inquiry stage.

“It is shocking that there are practitioners who are abusing their powers and bringing the highly esteemed
profession into disrepute”, Ms Marella O’Reilly, Acting Registrar and CEO said.

See here.

Counselor married former client’s wife; is now charged with sexually assaulting stepdaughter

SAN ANTONIO — Larry Dell Etter is a licensed professional counselor indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Etter met Jessie’s family when he served as a counselor to her father. He eventually married Jessie’s mother.

Etter’s alleged victim, who is now 18, said for years she suffered in silence.

“My step-dad had been sexually abusing me,” Jessie says.

Jessie is a National Hispanic Scholar, attending a private school with plans to go to college and become an English teacher. She says for 8 years she kept the secret of her abuse.

“Don’t be afraid to talk about it. If I could go back, I would have spoken up sooner,” she says.

The 60-year-old Etters is still allowed to practice. But if he is convicted he will lose his license.

The alleged victim’s family members are concerned professional counselors can still practice even after being arrested and indicted.

Since the alleged victim was not a client the Texas Board of Examiners and Professional Counselors has no authority to investigate the incident. They are waiting for the outcome of the  trial to take action.

Etter is also under review for failing to report his arrest to the state board that oversees counselors.

He is expected in court January 19.

Source: James Muñoz, “Counselor charged with sex assault of child still allowed to practice,” KENS Channel 5 (San Antonio, TX), November 18, 2011.

Medical board appears unmoved by psychiatrist’s justifications for sex with patient

DURBAN psychiatrist Dinesh Singh should have acted as the “bigger” person in keeping his relationship with a patient he had an affair with strictly professional, Moeti Kanyane, the attorney for the Health Professions Council of South Africa, argued at Singh’s appeal hearing yesterday.

In February, Singh, who practises at Life Entabeni Hospital and at Durdoc Medical Centre in the Durban city centre, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct and handed a 12-month suspension for having a sexual relationship with a patient in 2009.

Singh pleaded guilty to the charge but has appealed against his sentence.

Representing Singh, advocate Jean Marais SC argued that the sentence was too harsh for a man who was a father of two young boys and a breadwinner. He said although the offence was serious, the sentence should be suspended.

Marais said the disciplinary committee should consider that Singh had no previous convictions, that he had pleaded guilty and that, should he be suspended for 12 months, his patients would suffer.

He said the woman in question had initiated the relationship and that, at time of the relationship, Singh had been vulnerable as he had just lost his wife.

“The patient played an active role in pursuing the relationship,” he said.

Kanyane said the appeal against the sentence was “unfortunate” because it was too lenient. He said the committee should understand the seriousness of the charge and that the doctor had acted unprofessionally.

“The work of a psychiatrist is to diagnose and treat a mental disorder; this makes his patients vulnerable.”

Kanyane said Singh should have known better than to have a relationship with a patient and should have been the “bigger” person in dealing with his feelings towards the woman.

He said the argument that the woman had initiated the relationship was not tenable because Singh was not charged with initiating a relationship, but for taking part in it.

“I do not think that his sentence was harsh. In my view, the sentence was lenient.”

The Committee’s decision will be makde known on December 13.

Source: Nompumelelo Magwaza, “Doctor’s misconduct sentence ‘too harsh’,” www.iol.co.za, November 16 2011.

University of Chicago psychiatrist gets 30 years prison for federal sex crimes

SPRINGFIELD – A federal judge on Friday sentenced Mani Batchu, a 32-year-old adolescent psychiatrist from Chicago, to three decades in prison for luring teen girls into sexual relationships over the Internet.

Batchu’s victims included a 15-year-old from South Hadley – who appeared along with her family in U.S. District Court for the sentencing – and two more unknown girls FBI agents found were featured in sexually explicit home videos when they seized his computer in 2009.

The South Hadley teen sobbed in court as her father and mother spoke, telling a story of the unraveling of their family after she met Batchu. The doctor preyed on her with a barrage of text messages, endless phone calls, flowers, gifts and songs he penned for her, according to investigators and the girl’s statement in court.

U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor, who typically trends toward the lighter end of a hefty sentencing guideline range, bypassed the bottom end of the spectrum and gave Batchu the maximum 30 years behind bars. Batchu capped a lengthy sentencing hearing by, in a puzzling move, taking the witness stand and launching into a monologue that included suggesting a moment of silence for all the victims involved.

“No,” Ponsor said curtly.

Batchu pleaded guilty earlier this year to multiple charges related to transporting a minor and traveling across state lines for illicit sex. He apologized to the South Hadley victim, “Minor A,” her family, his parents and his colleagues at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. Of Indian descent, Batchu and his defense lawyer intimated that it was culturally appropriate to court a significantly younger girl as a wife, and he was casting about on the web for lifetime companionship.

Ponsor rejected the cultural defense and seemed otherwise unpersuaded.

“I have a very, very strong sense that you are a supreme phony and what we just heard was a pretentious, frothy, narcissistic performance,” the judge said. “I have not seen a more determined course of criminal conduct in 28 years on the bench.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow told Ponsor that Batchu went to great lengths to have sex with the girl, including catching a flight from Chicago in one instance and making the 16-hour drive straight though in another. He even continued stalking the girl after her parents called police, had been arrested in Chicago and had been charged criminally in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

He initally told Minor A his name was “Mark Taylor,” significantly low-balled his age and sent a fake photo, Breslow said in court, and then roped the girl in with charm, wit and promises of a secure future.

“The defendant used all of his skills … his charm and intelligence, and his ability to relate to people in general and children in particular,” Breslow said. “This was a truly perverted courtship.”

Batchu even traveled to Massachusetts to give the girl a “secret cell phone” when her mother took hers away, and secretly flew to Florida for a clandestine meeting while the family was on vacation to escape the trauma of the investigation.

The girl’s father told Ponsor that the experience has all but emotionally debilitated his daughter, unable to complete her senior year of high school and barely able to leave her bed most days. Tragically, the experience drove one of three sons to suicide, the man said.

“This horrendous episode has had a devastating effect on my family,” he said. “(My daughter) is depressed, guilt-ridden and unable to function.”

Minor A submitted a written statement her mother read to the court.

“He was always just a text message or a phone call away … He got me to do things a 15-year-old should never know about,” her statement read.

Batchu was expressionless when Ponsor delivered the withering assessment of Batchu’s remarks to the court after handing down the sentence. However, he chatted pleasantly with his friends and family members in the courtroom before the proceeding began, reporting that he has been very busy in prison.

“Im reading a lot of books. I don’t even think I read this many books in medical school,” he said with a smile.

Source: Stephanie Barry, “Mani Batchu, Chicago adolescent psychiatrist, sentenced to 30 years for luring teen girls into sexual relationships over the Internet,” The Republican, November 18, 2011.

Psychotherapist sexual exploitation of patients should be a crime in all states

When a suburban homemaker shows up at the emergency room at Newton-Wellesley Hospital feeling suicidal, she sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph A. Jackson, who gives her a kind of treatment she never expected. Over the course of four sessions, what starts out as a professional relationship quickly turns social, then manipulative, and finally sexual and exploitative. As a result, Jackson’s license to practice medicine was revoked a year ago for sexual misconduct with a patient.

Jackson is one of the 70 or so physicians of all types who have been disciplined by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine since 2004 for sexual misconduct and related boundary violations. At first blush, that may not sound like a lot, but the number of women who are sexually preyed upon by their doctors and other clinicians is under-reported according to many experts, including Linda Jorgenson, a local attorney who has represented hundreds of victims against doctors for crossing what she calls the “very bright line.”

“Sexual abuse of patients by doctors is pervasive, but it is vastly under-reported,” says Jorgenson. She points to a number of reasons why victims are reluctant to blow the whistle on the doctors who have sexually abused them.

“Many women, for instance, are embarrassed and think that no one will believe them,” she says. “Others feel alienated and mistrustful and so are afraid to do anything.”

Researchers estimate that only 1 percent to 4 percent of victims ever step forward.

Bottom line: More needs to be done to convince victims to take action. To that end, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) says that state medical boards should do public outreach. But the Board of Registration in Medicine, the state agency that licenses and disciplines physicians in Massachusetts, does no such thing — not even a brochure on the topic is to be had.

FSMB also recommends that medical boards should use investigators who are the same gender as the complainants who file sexual abuse cases. But the medical board here does not do this as a matter of course.

“Such cases are not always assigned to same-gender investigators, but one would specifically be if a complainant requests it, or that staff felt that a complainant would be more comfortable,” says Russell Aims, chief of staff to the board. “Staff I spoke to about it indicated that it’s rarely an issue.”

Maybe it is an issue, but complainants are afraid to ask for fear of offending someone. Same-gender investigators of sexual abuse cases should be the rule.

There is another related thing that needs to be done here in Massachusetts — sexual exploitation of patients needs to criminalized.

Beginning with Wisconsin’s criminalization of sex between a clinician and a patient in 1984, a number of states began to consider how they could do more than rely on organizational codes of ethics and disciplinary proceedings to address the problem. Although the laws vary widely, at least 23 states now make sexual abuse of patients by clinicians a criminal act — Massachusetts is not one of them.

Back in the early 1990s, there was an effort to criminalize sexual misconduct by clinicians with patients in the commonwealth, but the legislation died on Beacon Hill, and the Legislature has not looked back since then, even though the problem goes unabated.

Jorgenson strongly argues that sexual misconduct should be criminalized in the state.

“One of the primary benefits as I see it would be that it would articulate to everyone the wrongfulness of the behavior and thus serve as a deterrent,” she says. “The law could also provide for financial retribution to pay back the perpetrators for their outrageous conduct.”

Source: Colman M. Herman, “State board lets docs off easy; Abuse of patient must be a crime,” Boston Herald, November 14, 2011.