Bend’s Largest Hospital Sued For Misconduct

St. Charles Health System Bend.JPG

UPDATED: Monday, July 21, 2021 at 2 p.m.

A $1 million lawsuit filed against Central Oregon’s largest hospital, St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, alleges that a patient was sexually abused by an oncologist.

According to the complaint, Dr. Theodore Braich touched the plaintiff in a sexual manner during a medical examination in April 2020 while she was suffering from a life-threatening illness. 

The complaint, filed Friday in Deschutes County Circuit Court, says the abuse happened during an exam of the patient, called M.L. in the suit. While examining her spleen, the plaintiff alleges she felt Braich rub his pelvic bone against her hand, and that when she was dressing after the examination, he rushed toward her and touched her buttocks in a way that was “tactile and intrusive.”

The experience caused the plaintiff to suffer anxiety that prevented her from attending follow-up appointments that were made after she was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer, according to the lawsuit. She missed these evaluations despite knowing they “might well indicate the presence of worsening of her condition,” according to the filing.

After complaining to the hospital’s network, St. Charles Health System, M.L. received a letter stating her allegations had been thoroughly investigated and Braich was interviewed. An attorney representing M.L. told The Lund Report that the hospital told her that because the findings of its investigation into her complaint were “peer reviewed,” it could not disclose them. 

“In our experience,” Jason Kafoury, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff, told The Lund Report, “medical sexual abuse is a huge problem in our society that is under reported because sexual predators can cover up what they’re doing under the guise of proper medical care.” 

Court searches indicate that Braich has not been sued for sexual misconduct in the past. According to Oregon Medical Board records, Braich has been practicing medicine since 1980 and has had no complaints lodged against him.

Kafoury said often when one patient who is a victim of sexual abuse comes forward with a lawsuit, others soon follow. 

A spokesperson for St. Charles Health System, Kayley Mendenhall, said it was too soon for the hospital to comment on the allegations as it had not yet been served with the suit and would need time to review it.

St. Charles Health System has four hospitals in its network, all located in Central Oregon. According to its most recently available tax filing, it brought in more than $1 billion in revenue in 2019.

Another lawsuit against its Bend location, filed in March 2020, alleged the hospital fostered a “sexually hostile work environment.” Pharmacist Darcy Martin, who filed the complaint, described an “old boys club” attitude among coworkers who often made sexaully explicit jokes and harassed her on the basis of her gender.

Mendenhall said the case was dismissed.

“In September 2020, Ms. Martin and St. Charles stipulated to a full dismissal of the case with prejudice and without an award of costs or attorney fees to any party,” Mendenhall said.

You can reach Emily Green at [email protected] or on Twitter @GreenWrites.

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Comments

Ms. Green;

Regarding your story on Dr. Theodore Braich and the lawsuit against St. Charles in Bend: As a retired journalist and former member of the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners (OBME), I have some concerns about the reporting.

1. Was the alleged improper behavior ever reported to the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners? If not, why not? This is the agency created to discipline doctors who have violated the Oregon Medical Practices Act.

2. Extensively quoting a partisan in the lawsuit who stands to make a considerable amount of money if successful amplified the disparity of “access to the forum.”

3. That partisan was quoted: “medical sexual abuse is a huge problem in our society that is under reported…” This an opinion hinging on his experience and definition of the word “huge.” Or was it a tactic? What is the “experience” that validates this statement? If true, what relevance does the societal issue have to the specific case, or is the lawyer just trying to pressure the defendants before trial?

4. The lawyer again: "Kafoury said often when one patient who is a victim of sexual abuse comes forward with a lawsuit, others soon follow.” This is true, especially with a serial abuser. But Dr. Braich has no “priors.” The reference in this story seems designed to say, “Just wait. There are more out there!” Maybe. Maybe not. And even if more come forward, some of those may have reinterpreted their contact with Dr. Braich as a sexual impropriety. We don’t know, at this point.

5. The last three paragraphs seem irrelevant. A lawsuit not related to patient contact, not related to the same doctor, that had been dismissed with prejudice, is included why? Is this using facts “to distort the truth?”

6. Trial by journalism is difficult if not impossible to fight, especially in realms where reputation is at stake, so journalists have to be hyper aware of being used, of the need to be balanced (beyond weighing words from each side). St. Charles and Dr. Braich were unable to present “their” side of the story. Confidential peer review outside of discipline was is allowed in Oregon to promote the culling of “bad” doctors, not protect them. Talk to the executive director of the OBME for more information.

7. Do we have any evidence at all that what occurred was intentional sexual abuse beyond what, in your story, might have been an individual’s interpretation of inadvertent touch?

This was my first time reading the Lund Report, and overall, from the CV of staff to the thrust of the publication, I am impressed. Oregon needs this kind of focused journalism. Still, there are pitfalls, some of which I tried to highlight here.

I am no apologist: While on the OBME for four years, I was instrumental in changing policy so that disciplinary actions against doctors were treated as public information, successfully fought for “equality in standards of care” for rural Oregon, especially for female patients, investigated and “prosecuted” (through the BME process) multiple cases of behavior by doctors who violated the doctor / patient relationship. My four years of work on the OBME for the citizens of Oregon were a highlight of 13 years of public service, rivaling in personal value my nearly 30 years as a newspaperman.

In other words, I have some knowledge of and care deeply about these issues.

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