Assemblymember Aravella Simotas is introducing a series of measures to address sexual misconduct in health care settings. The legislation was inspired by the testimony of advocate Marissa Hoechstetter at Friday’s joint legislative hearing on sexual harassment. Hoechstetter was one of over twenty survivors who reported being sexually assaulted by former gynecologist Robert Hadden. Since coming forward, she has fought to reform the systems that enabled this serial predator to retain access to patients for more than two decades.
The first bill proposed by Simotas will mandate that all medical professionals pass background checks as a condition of initial licensure. New York is currently one of just six states without this requirement, which Hoechstetter testified could make the state attractive to doctors with criminal histories. The bill also requires that physicians who were licensed in other states undergo background checks including review of any past actions for professional misconduct.
“When the state fails to do its due diligence to ensure individuals seeking medical licenses are fit to provide care, it jeopardizes patient safety and endangers public health,” Simotas said. “As we’ve seen, patients are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse from their doctors and we must make every effort to prevent these abhorrent violations. This commonsense legislation will protect patients by ensuring that doctors with histories of violence, negligence and misconduct are not authorized to practice in New York.”
The second bill directs the Office of Professional Medical Conduct to publicize information on their website explaining the rights and reporting options available to patients who have been subjected to sexual misconduct at the hands of a health care provider. Currently, the website does not offer any guidance for patients who have experienced sexual harassment or assault and never explicitly mentions the office’s role in receiving these types of complaints. Additionally, the bill requires doctor’s offices to post signage promoting the Office of Professional Medical Conduct’s website to make patients aware that this resource exists.
“A major issue that emerged from Marissa’s story was how incredibly difficult it is for someone who has been sexually abused by their doctor to navigate our reporting systems,” Simotas said. “It is crucial that we make information on the Office of Professional Medical Conduct’s complaint procedures clear and accessible to all patients.”
The third bill requires that doctors provide written notice to their patients if they are subject to ongoing proceedings, placed on probation or disciplined by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct; have been subject to the revocation, surrender, suspension or limitation of their medical license; or have been found guilty or entered into a settlement agreement for a medical malpractice claim. Additionally, the bill requires these doctors to notify any new patients of these events before providing a consultation or beginning treatment.
“It is unconscionable that patients are continually exposed to abusive doctors without any knowledge of past complaints against them,” Simotas said. “This legislation will create greater transparency and safeguard patients from physicians who have been reported for misconduct or negligence. I am incredibly grateful to Marissa for so courageously sharing her story and illuminating the need to strengthen these patient protections and combat sexual violence in our health care system.”
Hoechstetter said: "As a survivor of sexual assault by my OB/GYN while I was pregnant, this package of bills represents a huge step forward towards ensuring that what happened to me won't happen to other patients. For over 20 years, my abuser retained his privileged position as a way to gain access to women's bodies for sexual gratification. By using direct language about sexual harassment and sexual assault, by clearly promoting where to report these crimes, and by conducting background checks, New York will unequivocally tell physicians that those who abuse their unique position do not deserve protection. And, with more information about a doctors' disciplinary history publicly available, we will be able to make informed choices about our providers. I am grateful to Assemblymember Simotas and her colleagues for their commitment to ensuring that healthcare employees and patients, particularly the most vulnerable among us, are not needlessly and repeatedly exposed to sexual harassment and assault."