COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The working group put together by Governor Mike DeWine, for the purpose of exploring how and why the State Medical Board of Ohio failed to discipline Dr. Richard Strauss for sexual misconduct, released a report of its findings and its recommendations to address deficiencies at the end of August.
Monday, the State Medical Board had the chance to publicly address the working group about the report. The report detailed eight recommendations the State Medical Board is expected to address.
They are: a duty to report incidents to the State Medical Board; law enforcement involvement; quality assurance; confidentiality and transparency; board and staff structure and process; sexual impropriety investigations; considerations for additional study or information by the State Medical Board and considerations for additional study or information by Ohio Health Care Boards.
“There are, as you know, dozens of action items for follow-up to our report and recommendations, and in contemplating a strategy for our follow-up to the Medical Board’s follow-up, I thought it would be helpful to divide our work into categories,” said Tom Stickrath, director of the department of public safety and chairman of the working group.
Stickrath then asked the State Medical Board for its response to the report.
“I would say that overall, the medical board’s reaction is one of true appreciation for it’s thoughtful and thorough and productive analysis and recommendations,” said Dr. Michael Schottenstein, State Medical Board president. “The report clearly furthers our common goal which is to protect the citizens of Ohio.”
Schottenstein went on to say, “I don’t foresee a problem in terms of the eventual implementation of the recommendations of the working group report and I think we’re making good progress overall.”
At least that is the case in most areas. Two areas that were discussed did have some form of delay. The first was with the complete review of closed sexual misconduct cases.
“We’re going to need to push back the expected completion date of the review of the closed sexual misconduct cases from 1979 through Aug. 30, 2019,” Stickrath said. “Our hope is that the delay is somewhere in the area of three to four months at most.”
The reason for the delay is an inability to find appropriate investigators to handle the cases in question, some of which are decades old.
Further, the State Medical Board has five victim coordinator/advocates to cover the entire state.
This is a number that at least one working group member is concerned about. She says that is not nearly enough.
When she questioned the State Medical Board about the hiring of more of these individuals she brought up other concerns, such as the amount of time the job posting was saying their expertise would be needed, placing the maximum hours at 250.
According to the working group member, that amount of time is likely to be highly insufficient.
According to the State Medical Board, because the position is a contract employee, there is flexibility in the amount of time they will be needed for.
Flexibility is another area the working group member brought up. Having reviewed the job posting herself, she questioned why the expected hours of employment were set from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The State Medical Board says it must have been an oversite, perhaps a boilerplate template that was used, and admitted that it did not reflect actual expectations for the position.
Mistakes like this may seem minor, but any mistakes at a time when the organization is expected to be cleaning up its act after being exposed in the way the State Medical Board has been are only magnified, and call into question the level of attention to detail those working there have.
Also, it’s important that the victim coordinators/advocates are able to meet with victims at a time and place convenient for them, and that is not always between 8 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to the working group member.
Another issue the report detailed was tension between State Medical Board investigators and enforcement employees. The situation has apparently been so bad, Stickrath specifically asked about it.
“We found, and I’ll quote, ‘Pronounced conflict between the Medical Board investigating staff in both its members and enforcement staff,'” Stickrath. said.
The new executive director of the State Medical Board was on hand to field the question about if that conflict had been resolved. Stephanie Loucka has only been on the job three days, and explained to Stickrath that she would be speaking with the investigator group about the matter on Tuesday.
“With respect to specific details as to what we may be doing working on that tension going forward, we don’t have those details,” Loucka said. “However, I think there is acknowledgment at the board that this is something that everybody wants to work on.”
Leading the State Medical Board out of this storm and into a future where the reporting of sexual misconduct is not only taken seriously, it is not swept under the rug will be Loucka’s job moving forward.
The State Medical Board’s spokesperson, Tessie Pollock, addressed media inquiries after the meeting due to Loucka still getting up to speed.
“As we start to take a look at the work before us, we want to make sure that we’re doing it right,” Pollock said. “It’s really an opportunity to look at the entire process to make sure that what the Medical Board does is really aimed at protecting the public and patients in Ohio.”
The governor’s working group expects to see further improvement and receive updates from the State Medical Board in the future.
Several recommendations of meeting with law enforcement groups in the near future would be a good thing for the State Medical Board to consider, so they can share their plans and make connections moving forward.