A Utah woman has filed a $254,000 claim against Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg, alleging she was repeatedly molested over a two-day hospital stay by a doctor who officials say was forced to surrender his license to practice.
The claim contends LaVar Withers, who stopped practicing in May, has been sexually molesting patients in eastern Idaho for 17 years and that his "longstanding history of sexual improprieties with patients was a matter of common knowledge."Still, according to the claim filed on behalf of former Ricks College student Katherine Proctor, the hospital allowed Withers to continue practicing there. The claim also alleges malpractice.
Withers has denied all the allegations lodged against him.
"You cannot examine without touching," he said. "I think it's criminal and wrong that people say we have a multitude of complaints but we have no faces or names."
The claim against Madison County, which owns the hospital, sets the stage for a formal lawsuit should the county refuse to pay the damages being sought.
"We're just like everyone else," hospital administrator Keith Steiner said. "We're just hearing a lot of different things."
The Withers case has prompted some discussion about the closed method state regulators have in Idaho and elsewhere of handling complaints against doctors.
Idaho's is among 40 medical boards that do not publicize disciplinary actions made informally. Those are agreements - reprimands, limits on a medical practice or surrender of a license - made between the board and a physician privately. No formal complaint is filed so the agreement is not public.
Supporters of a totally open disciplinary process say the public should know about any possible threat to its safety. Moreover, a private process inspires leaks of information that might smear a physician far more than a report of an investigation.
But Darleene Thorsted, executive director of the Idaho Board of Medicine, said the promise of confidentiality in informal proceedings often encourages witnesses to testify who otherwise would not.
In formal hearings, a physician is allowed to know who his accusers are and to rebut the charges.
And medical ethics expert Michael Shapiro says settling complaints informally is a legitimate way to weed out bad doctors.