St. Joe's Hospital CEO insists response to reported inappropriate behavior was prompt

As an investigation unfolds, an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center is publicly responding to claims of inappropriate conduct inside the hospital's operating rooms.
Updated at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 6:

Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Claims of inappropriate behavior in the operating room at St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center have led to a federal investigation.

The New York State Department of Health oversaw a survey of the hospital on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About two dozen people were interviewed for the survey, which outlines allegations that an orthopedic surgeon slapped sedated patients on the behind or hips, in some cases leaving red marks and calling them derogatory names.

A copy of the federal investigation suggests that staff allowed this to go on for the past year, some saying they were afraid of repercussions, others feeling nothing would be done.

The surgeon was also accused of making sexual comments toward some of the staff.

When asked about the government report, a statement was provided, attributed to Kathryn Ruscitto, President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center.

"In late December, we became aware of an incident that involved inappropriate behavior by a physician in our operating rooms. This behavior involved actions and language, which were offensive and did not uphold our mission, vision and values. Our patients, their families, our physicians and support staff deserve the highest level of dignity, compassion and respect in everything we do.

Once administration became aware of these issues, prompt action was taken to address them, working closely with our physicians, nursing and support staff, and the Department of Health. Immediate disciplinary actions were taken with the physician and staff involved. These are personnel-related matters which cannot be discussed publicly.

I cannot emphasize enough that whenever anyone has concerns about patient care, staff behavior or anything else at St. Joseph's, each of us has a responsibility to bring those concerns forward immediately. We are all accountable for upholding St. Joseph's mission and values."

The report says the hospital didn't have proper policies in place to specifically address patient abuse. The surgeon is not named.

The federal survey follows previous investigations involving St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center.

The Onondaga County District Attorney's Office and the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct opened investigations into Dr. Michael Clarke this year.

"There are ongoing investigations. We can't comment other than to say that it is his position that there is not any patient abuse or wrongdoing involved," said James Lantier, an attorney representing Dr. Clarke in the Office of Professional Medical Conduct case. "We've never even been provided with actual statements from accusers, so we're not in any position to comment."

Lantier said he has not been given a copy of the federal findings.

As the investigations continue, Dr. Clarke has not been charged with anything and he's still operating. He transferred to Crouse Hospital.

"Dr. Clarke has been working in our operating room since late February, without incident. The staff enjoys working with him. He knows what our culture is and what our behavior expectations are," said Crouse Hospital spokesperson Bob Allen. "We can only go on the facts and we can only go on what we've seen here in the short time he's been practicing. He's done nothing that goes against our values."

Dr. Clarke referred all questions to his attorney.

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