(NaturalNews) If you live in Western New York and ever need to be admitted to the hospital for a hip or knee replacement, you could end up being assaulted or sexually harassed by your surgeon while under the knife. At least, this is the case at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, where an orthopedic surgeon by the name of Michael Clarke has been accused of slapping many of his patients on the buttocks and even verbally assaulting them prior to digging in the scalpel.
Syracuse.com reports that federal investigators are currently investigating claims that Clarke routinely took excessive liberties with his patients after anesthetizing them. While his patients were asleep, Clarke allegedly smacked the butts of many of them, sometimes so hard that red marks and even hand prints were left as evidence. Clarke also allegedly cursed at these same patients and even made sexually explicit comments to specific staff members.
According to reports, these physical and verbal assaults went on for at least a year at the facility until a complaint was eventually filed by one of the staffers. But St. Joseph's apparently ignored the warning and allowed Clarke to continue these vile actions, that is until the state health department caught wind of what was going on and initiated a federal investigation.
St. Joseph's could lose funding over Clarke scandal
A member of Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists, Clarke, 47, has denied via his lawyer that he did anything wrong. However, Clarke has thus far refused to issue a public comment about the case, and St. Joseph's is now under the gun for its role in allowing this abuse to take place under its watch. According to Syracuse.com, St. Joseph's could face sanctions over the violations, including possible termination from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs that pay for the majority of its patients.
"We launched a grand jury investigation that's still pending," stated Jeremy Cali, a senior assistant district attorney from the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office, to reporters. The OCDA is currently investigating Clarke for potential criminal misconduct after receiving the same formal complaint that the state health department received about Clarke's alleged behavior at the hospital.
"The health department talked to many of the same people we did."
St. Joseph's staffers admit Clarke abused patients
Since learning about the case, the health department has interviewed 24 staff members at St. Joseph's, 13 of whom worked directly with Clarke at the hospital. Of these, 11 staffers confessed that Clarke would sometimes slap his patients, while eight of them claimed that he spewed "sexually explicit" language at patients during surgery.
"These actions were tolerated by OR [operating room] staff and not reported to the hospital's administration until December 2013," claims the report.
In its defense, the hospital claims that it took swift action against Clarke and all involved staffers after learning about abuses. But followup monitoring allegedly initiated by the hospital to ensure that such actions would not continue was apparently inadequate, and no official policies were enacted to ensure that patients would be protected from further abuse by unhinged hospital personnel.
"If you have an orthopedic surgeon who brings in a lot of money, you may look the other way," said Arthur Levin from the Center for Medical Consumers, a New York City-based consumer advocacy group, commenting on the case to Syracuse.com.
Two months after the initial complaints were filed, Clarke reportedly left St. Joseph's, and he is now working at nearby Crouse Hospital. Meanwhile, federal investigators have determined that the deficiencies at St. Joseph's are "significant" and limit the hospital's capacity to "render adequate care and... ensure the health and safety of... patients."