WATERVILLE — Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville failed to protect an elderly patient from a male sonographer who called her in for an unnecessary ultrasound and then sexually violated her, according to a federal report.

The hospital on Kennedy Memorial Drive was also found to have insufficiently vetted the background of the sonographer, who was charged with two felonies and one misdemeanor related to sexual battery of a female patient while employed at a Norfolk, Virginia hospital in 2006.

The findings were issued in May by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and first reported by the Bangor Daily News Wednesday night.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers government healthcare programs, notified Northern Light Inland Hospital in May that Medicare would no longer pay for services on or after August 14 because the institution was not compliant with its conditions of participation, according to documents obtained by the Morning Sentinel.

That notice was rescinded July 29 after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the Waterville hospital’s plan of correction and its conduct at a site visit.

It is unclear whether any charges will be brought against the hospital or the sonographer who is alleged of abuse.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

FINDINGS OF FEDERAL REPORT 

The male employee, whose name is not being released, allegedly violated a 76-year-old female patient April 3 during a doctor-ordered ultrasound of her pelvis and abdomen related to a hernia.

A week later, she told a hospital official that after her underwear had been removed for the exam, the sonographer placed an un-gloved hand under her left buttock, ran an ultrasound probe down the inside of her leg, spent a concerning amount of time “examining (her) belly” and made comments “such as how beautiful I am and he would never know I was 76, what is it about you?,” according to the federal report.

The sonographer then allegedly told the patient that she “had a defect in a hernia with fluid moving through the break in the hernia,” and ordered her to have a follow-up ultrasound, which took place the next day.

During that visit, she said, the improper activity escalated. The patient told a hospital official and a state inspector the sonographer touched her genitals in a sexual way, without wearing gloves, that did not have to do with the medical examination she had initially sought.

After briefly leaving the exam room to allow her to get dressed, the sonographer reportedly reentered without knocking, “looked at (her) as (she) stood there completely naked then walked over to the computer and began talking about ‘issues with the images’ (and) computers (being) down,” according to the report.

He also told her she would not have to pay for the visit, and “continued to ask (her) to come back and see him,” according to the hospital official’s notes from an interview with the patient.

The patient first reported incidents of unwanted sexual touching to a hospital official April 12, eight days after her last visit, which mandated a state investigation despite the patient expressing fear of repercussions.

She eventually told the state inspector May 1 that she “has been so upset by the incident that (she) has contacted a sexual assault center for emotional support,” according to the federal report.

Inland Hospital’s team leader in the imaging department and another sonographer at the hospital told the state inspector it was hospital policy for the male sonographer to have a female chaperone in the room whenever he performs a transvaginal ultrasound, a rule that the male sonographer reportedly did not follow.

The hospital official and a state inspector could not find documentation of the patient visiting April 4 and no imaging results from the ultrasound that day were in her file, though there was a consent form signed by the patient April 4 for receiving a disc with imaging results.

The radiologist who interpreted her April 3 results confirmed he found the results from that initial visit to be “straightforward” and did not request a follow-up appointment, according to the report.

In its state-filed plan to address the deficiencies identified in the report, Inland Hospital said it removed the ability of individual staff members to call a patient back to the facility for additional procedures, and now requires department directors to review exam bookings that have been rescheduled.

The hospital has also pledged to increase employees’ training on patients’ rights from annually to quarterly, with monthly audits of at least five staff members to ensure effectiveness.

 

PROTECTING THE ACCUSED 

Multiple officials at the Waterville hospital and its parent system, Northern Light Health, based in Brewer, declined to comment on specifics of the report. They would confirm neither the male sonographer’s name nor whether he is still employed at Inland Hospital.

The federal report states that the sonographer is male and has “a noted accent,” based on a voicemail the patient played for a hospital official of a person she believes is the sonographer. The federal report does not name the patient.

“With regard to the specific allegations of patient abuse, the hospital is bound by obligations of confidentiality to both its patients and employees and is therefore not at liberty to comment on the substance of the allegations, except to point out that DHHS made no factual findings establishing that the alleged abuse did, in fact, occur,” hospital officials wrote in a statement.

Suzanne Spruce, Northern Light Health’s chief communications officer, said, “We take any complaint like that very seriously,” and referred to the hospital’s written statement for further comments. The statement echoes that sentiment, adding the hospital “took appropriate action in this case.”

“Northern Light Health remains committed to achieving the highest standards of patient safety in all of its member organizations,” it reads.

Sara Barry, director of community relations for Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville, also declined to comment outside of the written statement.

 

BACKGROUND CHECKS

In addition to the allegations of abuse, the report found the male sonographer’s job application to Northern Light Inland Hospital indicated that he had been terminated from a previous job, and that the hospital did not adequately check his background before and after hiring him.

In an April 19 interview with hospital officials, the sonographer revealed he was fired over accusations he had used an ultrasound wand to sexually assault a female patient at a Virginia hospital. He said he was told by his lawyer the charges had been “expunged,” and he would not have to disclose them to Northern Light Inland Hospital when he applied for his position.

The state inspector found the hospital ran two background checks on the sonographer, both within Maine in September 2007. One was in Kennebec County, the other in Somerset County. Neither showed any felonies.

While the sonographer said the alleged sexual assault in Virginia took place “18 years ago,” the state inspector found he was charged with two felonies and one misdemeanor in 2006, for which he was fired from the Norfolk, Virginia, hospital and then sought expungement, according to the report.

In the hospital’s correction plan, officials reaffirmed a policy to conduct multistate criminal background checks for prospective employees and monthly checks to see if current employees have been barred from participating in state and federal health insurance programs.

It also now requires applicants for jobs involving direct patient care to explain if they were fired or resigned while under investigation for allegations of patient abuse or neglect, inappropriate touching of patients or “reasons related to clinical competence.”

The hospital also said it will provide hiring managers with additional training on conducting background checks and work history reviews.

Northern Light Health operates 13 medical centers, a laboratory, a pharmacy and a foundation in Maine.


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