The Georgia Composite Medical Board will review its handling of physician sexual misconduct cases in response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Doctors & Sex Abuse” series.
The board is appointing a special subcommittee to study the Georgia cases that were examined in the AJC’s national investigation. Those include the cases of Dr. Jacob Ward and Dr. William Almon, said Bob Jeffery, the board's executive director.
The board is not reopening the cases, Jeffery told the AJC. Instead, it is reviewing the cases to study how they were handled and to inform the board as it deals with similar cases in the future. Most of the current board members were not on the board when the disciplinary decisions were made in the sexual misconduct cases investigated by the AJC, Jeffery said.
The AJC began its national investigation after a look at Georgia cases found that two out of three Georgian physicians publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct was allowed to practice again.
In Ward's case, in 2007 after two female patients reported that he had molested them during exams, the board did nothing other than write a "personal and confidential" letter to Ward expressing its "concern regarding exams and patients of the opposite sex."
Then in 2011, another female patient went to Woodstock police, reporting that Ward had squeezed her buttocks, pulled up her shirt and felt her breasts and touched her genitals during an exam. He entered a professional sexual misconduct treatment program in Atlanta, and the medical board put him on probation, requiring him to use a chaperone and practice under other restrictions. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery. He is still in practice today.
Almon was accused three times of sexually violating extremely vulnerable patients, including a mentally ill woman, a 14-year-old girl, jail inmates and a suicidal soldier. Each time, he was effectively given a pass, as my colleague Danny Robbins reported. While Almon was indicted in 2002 in Paulding County on charges of child molestation involving the 14-year-old and sexual battery of the mentally ill woman, the medical board took no action in the matter until 2008, two years after he had pleaded to misdemeanor counts of battery and sexual battery. The board then placed him on probation for at least two years. The court discharged from the criminal charges as a first offender without an adjudication of guilt. He, too, is still licensed.
The AJC’s national investigation, which was launched online July 6, exposed a phenomenon of physician sexual misconduct that is tolerated to some degree in all 50 states. The investigation found that silence, secrecy and inconsistent consequences created a system that protects abusive doctors and puts patients at risk.
Jeffery said that in the wake of the AJC’s findings, the board also wants to know more about how experts determine that a doctor who has engaged in sexual misconduct is safe to practice again.
The Georgia board has asked Dr. Gene Abel, a nationally-recognized expert in physician sexual misconduct, to meet with the board in a special public session next month. The Georgia board relied on Abel for years to assess physicians in sexual misconduct cases and advise the board on whether the offending doctors could continue to practice medicine without putting patients at risk.
Abel, who recently retired, attracted doctors from across the country for decades to his Behavioral Medicine Institute of Atlanta.
Jeffery said the board read the AJC series with interest. “Stories like this actually will help us all do a better job,” he said.