(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine today called on the State Medical Board of Ohio to conduct a thorough review of all sexual assault allegations against physicians and other licensed medical personnel that were investigated and closed without action over the past 25 years.
Governor DeWine requested the review today after announcing that an examination of the 1996 State Medical Board of Ohio investigation into former Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss revealed that investigators knew that Strauss had been “performing inappropriate genital exams on male students for years,” yet no one with knowledge of the case moved to revoke his license or notify law enforcement.
“I have deep concerns that there could be other cases similar to this one – cases where there was clear evidence of criminal misconduct, but that evidence was ignored,” said Governor DeWine. “The examination of these cases will be a major undertaking, but it’s the right thing to do. We cannot risk that there are other sexual assault cases that were mishandled and other predator physicians still practicing medicine.”
Governor DeWine created a working group in May to review the medical board’s 1996 investigation after a separate investigation commissioned by Ohio State found that Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, sexually assaulted at least 177 male students while working as a doctor in Ohio State’s athletic department and/or student health center from the late 1970s to mid-1990s.
The Governor’s Working Group on Reviewing of the Medical Board’s Handling of the Investigation Involving Richard Strauss found that the medical board’s investigation launched in July 1996 after an investigator learned that Strauss’ authority to see patients was suspended by the university. The investigation was completed in December of that year, and although case notes from February 1997 indicate that a medical board attorney planned to move forward with the case, no additional action was taken until the case was closed in 2002.
“For reasons that simply cannot be determined from the files still available or known or recalled by anyone interviewed by this working group, the investigation fell into what one former employee called a ‘black hole.’ Nothing from the individuals interviewed or from the investigation records indicates that the medical board staff involved law enforcement,” working group members wrote in their report.
The working group also noted an “astounding failure” of anyone in a position of authority at the university to initiate a medical board or criminal investigation into Strauss’ conduct. Although medical board investigators specifically identified physicians in 1996 who may have failed to report Strauss, the board did not pursue action against those individual physicians for allegedly disregarding their statutory obligation to notify the board or law enforcement.
Based on a recommendation from the working group, Governor DeWine has also asked the medical board to identify any Ohio medical license holders who knew or suspected Strauss’ criminal misconduct and investigate whether there were actionable failures to report. The working group also recommended that the board examine any other cases where action was pursued against an offending physician but not pursed against physicians who failed to report the behavior.
While the working group members did find that the State Medical Board of Ohio had “already made significant strides in addressing physician sexual impropriety before Strauss’ sexual abuse became public,” the group did issue a series of additional recommendations for further improvements. The recommendations relate to improving partnerships with law enforcement; implementing practices of quality assurance; enhancing transparency while maintaining appropriate confidentiality; and incorporating trauma-informed practices into sexual impropriety investigations.
Governor DeWine is also asking other boards that regulate the licenses of health care professionals or other health care fields to submit a report to the working group detailing how each board oversees investigations, works with law enforcement, incorporates survivor-centered investigative techniques, and balances transparency and confidentiality. Boards included in this request include, but are not limited to, the Ohio Dental Board, Ohio Board of Nursing, State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, Ohio Vision Professionals Board, Ohio Board of Psychology, Ohio Chiropractic Board, and the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board.