Judge orders Lee Health to turn over records of sexual assault allegations against staff

Wooden gavel and gold legal scale that appear to have sunlight falling on them
Lee Health has been ordered to provide records related to allegations of sexual assault against its employees between 2012 and 2016. (Getty Images/William_Potter)

A federal judge has ordered Fort Myers, Florida-based Lee Health system to provide all records related to allegations of sexual assault against its employees made between 2012 and 2016 as part of a lawsuit filed by a woman who said she was raped by one of the health system’s nurses.

Three women have accused former Cape Coral Hospital registered nurse Jeovanni Hechavarria of attacking them between 2015 and 2016, and two have filed suit against Lee Health saying the system failed to protect them from attack at one their hospitals, the Fort Meyers News-Press reported.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando’s order (PDF) gives the health system until Sept. 28 to produce the documents. The woman and her legal team had originally requested records dating back to 2006, and Lee Health argued that combing through a decade of documents would take too much time.

“Five years of records should be sufficient for [the woman and her legal team] to establish the alleged policies or customs, and the limitation will reduce the burden on Lee Memorial, especially given that Lee Memorial will not need to access or search its pre-2010 risk management database,” Mirando wrote.

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The woman initially filed suit in October 2017. In her complaint (PDF), she says that Hechavarria entered her hospital room in July 2016 and raped her. To prevent her from screaming for help, he told her “I’m a nurse and I have access to your chart—if you tell, I know where you live,” according to the complaint.

Hechavarria was arrested in connection with the assault in 2017, the News-Press reported, and he has since been charged with an April 2016 sexual assault and in connection with a March 2015 incident as well.

In the suit, the woman says that Lee Health failed to protect her, as Hechavarria remained on staff following the first report of the 2015 assault.

“Hechavarria ... faced no disciplinary action, he was provided no additional training, he was provided no additional supervision and his access to female hospital rooms was not limited,” according to the lawsuit.

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Lee Health placed Hechavarria on unpaid leave in July 2016 following the sexual assault reports and later fired him, according to the News-Press. Officials at the health system said he remained on staff following the 2015 report as police dropped the case due to lack of physical evidence.

Mary Briggs, spokesperson for Lee Health, said in a statement to FierceHealthcare that the judge's order was part of a routine evidence request, and that it is not unusual to ask for limits on an "extensive discovery request."

Lee Health immediately contacted police and conducted investigations into each allegation against Hechavarria after they were reported, Briggs said.

"The safety and well-being of our patients is our highest priority," she said. "When a criminal allegation is made, we promptly respond, report the matter to the appropriate authorities and fully cooperate with law enforcement."