By Max Filby - Columbus Dispatch - 24.10.2023 [USA] - [Ohio]
Legislation created to better protect patients from sexually abusive medical professionals is moving forward and state leaders believe it will become law.
Senate Bill 109, proposed by State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, on April 18, would require doctors on probation for sexual misconduct to notify their patients in writing.
Among other measures, the bill would also allow the State Medical Board of Ohio to take action more quickly when a physician is accused of sexual misconduct and would require prosecuting attorneys to notify the board if a doctor is convicted or pleads guilty to a specific felony or misdemeanor in court.
"The most important thing is we want to better protect Ohioans and that is exactly what this bill will do," Hackett told The Dispatch.
Hackett hasn’t seen any opposition to the bill. Although a similar bill died in committee last year, the state senator said he is confident the legislation will ultimately become law.
But, it takes a long time to get a bill passed and Hackett said he isn't sure when it could be approved in the state senate and then the house. So far, Hackett said the bill has moved through the Statehouse at a pace similar to most other legislation being considered by state lawmakers.
Hackett will meet with senate leadership in November and he said he expects prioritizing Senate Bill 109 will be discussed. If the bill doesn't pass before the end of 2023, Hackett said he expects it will in 2024.
“I don’t seen any problems getting the bill passed long term,” Hackett said. “Both the governor and I have pushed for the bill from the beginning and nothing has changed."
The legislation was reintroduced in the state senate this year following a Dispatch investigation of the State Medical Board of Ohio and its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against physicians throughout 42 years.
From 1980 through 2022, at least 256 Ohio doctors have faced disciplinary action for sexual misconduct. Of those doctors, 199 sexually abused or harassed 449 patients, The Dispatch revealed.
Those figures don't include an unknown number of victims who have never come forward or complaints that in the past were not fully investigated.
While it remains unclear exactly when the legislation could pass both chambers of the Statehouse, Gov. Mike DeWine has signaled he'd support Senate Bill 109. DeWine previously praised The Dispatch's investigation and said he hoped it would propel legislation on the issue.
“It remains a top priority for the governor,” Dan Tierney, spokesman for the governor said of the legislation. The bill's progress in the senate this year has been encouraging, said Stephanie Loucka, executive director of the medical board. Loucka said board leaders have met with state lawmakers about the bill and "have been pleased with the discussions and questions posed to us."
Following the publication of The Dispatch's investigation, S.B. 109 gained more ground in the senate compared to a similar bill proposed in 2022 that went nowhere. Loucka testified at a hearing for the bill's latest iteration in September.
"These changes will provide a direct impact to the citizens of Ohio; there’s no better time to act than the present," she told The Dispatch.
If S.B. 109 eventually becomes law, it would cap a series of changes that were proposed in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving former Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss. Strauss, who died in 2005, was accused of sexually abusing at least 177 former students and athletes during his time as a doctor at Ohio State.
After the scandal was uncovered in 2018, the board launched an informational campaign, revamped its sexual abuse reporting processes and hired a victim coordinator, more enforcement attorneys and additional investigators. The changes, Loucka said, were made to encourage the public and medical professionals to trust that they can come forward with allegations.
And while S.B. 109 represents the last set of changes currently proposed to bolster the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against medical professionals, Loucka said the board is always open to more.
"While we are focused on S.B 109, we never close the door on the opportunity for improvement..." she said. "The more we know, and the better tools we have in our toolbox, the more we can protect the public from bad actors." If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.