A Cleveland Clinic surgeon accused of sexually assaulting two patients was kept on staff at the prominent Ohio hospital during confidential settlement negotiations, according to a recent investigation by USA Today.
The newspaper reported Friday that Ryan Williams, a colorectal surgeon, was accused of anally raping two women during medical procedures in 2008 and 2009 — and that the hospital kept him on the payroll after the allegations, which Williams has “vehemently” denied.
Williams left the Cleveland Clinic in June, though the circumstances of his departure are unclear. A hospital spokeswoman said it “was unrelated” to the rape allegations, adding: “We don't normally discuss personnel matters publicly.”
The surgeon now works at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where officials said Friday they did not know about the “disturbing allegations” when Williams was hired over the summer.
“The university takes these allegations of past misconduct seriously, and Dr. Williams was placed on administrative leave in December,” Andrew Thomas, the medical center's chief clinical officer, said in a statement. “We are actively investigating to ensure that patient safety at Ohio State was never compromised.”
The USA Today report detailed one case in which a woman claimed that Williams put his penis in her rectum during a medical examination in April 2008.
According to a report filed by the Westlake Police Department and obtained by the newspaper, a medical assistant told investigators that the woman ran from the exam room without her pants, shouting, “Why did he do it?”
Williams reportedly replied at the time, “I don't know.”
But USA Today reported that results from a rape kit and other tests did not show evidence of a crime, and a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman told USA Today that Williams passed a polygraph, which was reviewed by a grand jury.
Williams was not prosecuted in criminal court.
The woman sued Williams, and that case was settled, though the terms of the agreement are confidential.
In February 2009, a woman who had gone in for a hemorrhoid procedure claimed Williams gave her two pills, then everything turned hazy. It wasn't until 2014 that she told police she started to remember seeing him hold his penis.
The woman told USA Today that she wrote to the ombudsman at the Cleveland Clinic; when it appeared nothing was happening with her complaint, she said, she went to the police. The surgeon was not charged with a crime.
“They went to great lengths to cover it up, and there was just no way for someone to be warned, to know what could happen,” the woman said. “They can just make it completely disappear, and that kind of environment, it almost encourages these kinds of crimes.”
Williams could not immediately be reached for comment, but told USA Today: “I vehemently deny what these women are saying.”
He told the newspaper that the accusations were disrupting his “work and home life.”
The Cleveland Clinic said in a statement that it has “processes for employees and patients to report any concerns, which are then thoroughly investigated. In these cases, we immediately reported the accusations to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and cooperated fully with the investigations. No charges were made against the physician, and he a passed a polygraph test.”
“We care deeply about patient safety, and any form of misconduct is not tolerated,” the statement read.
One issue, according to USA Today, lies in the settlements.
Hospitals will often take over doctors' liability in confidential settlements, which Washington plaintiffs' attorney Patrick Malone calls a “frequent dodge” to keep medical negligence claims out of the National Practitioner Data Bank. Before they hire doctors, hospitals check the databank, which also includes disciplinary actions by hospitals, medical societies and boards, which also have access to it.
USA Today reported that the first case was considered “a 'miscellaneous tort claim,' filed after Ohio's one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims had passed.”
That, the newspaper noted, “is just one of the many laws working in the favor of the Cleveland Clinic and the health-care industry in Ohio.”
Michael Shroge, a former Cleveland Clinic associate general counsel, told USA Today that health-care systems are “very often more interested in protecting their brand than protecting the health of patients.” The lawyer added that Ohio has some of the nation's broadest “protections affording confidentiality.”
This post has been updated.