Cleveland Clinic reached confidential settlement with patient who alleged a surgeon raped her

Hospitals have covered up sexual misconduct by doctors by reaching confidential settlements with patients, including a case at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, according to a newspaper report.

The Cleveland Clinic knew of at least two cases in which patients accused a surgeon of rape but kept him on the staff while they reached a confidential settlement with one of the women, according to an investigation by USA Today.

Two female patients filed police reports accusing a colorectal surgeon of raping them in 2008 and 2009, the newspaper said. The doctor, who has never been convicted of any crime, left the Cleveland Clinic last summer and went to work at another hospital, which put him on paid administrative leave after learning of the complaints, according to the article.

While the doctor did not face criminal prosecution and "vehemently" denies the allegations, one patient sued him and the Cleveland Clinic, resulting in a confidential settlement, USA Today reported.

In a statement to Fierce Healthcare, a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman said no charges were made against the physician and he passed a polygraph test.

“Cleveland Clinic is strongly committed to protecting the rights and safety of our patients, visitors and caregivers from any type of inappropriate behavior. We have processes for employees and patients to report any concerns, which are then thoroughly investigated. In these cases, we immediately reported the accusations to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and cooperated fully with the investigations . . . We care deeply about patient safety and any form of misconduct is not tolerated," the statement said.

Hospitals have frequently entered into the same types of secret settlements that have been reported in sexual harassment cases against prominent men in government and the entertainment industry, USA Today said. Those confidential agreements protect doctors accused of sexual assaults from professional and public fallout.

Indeed, this isn’t the first time a newspaper investigation has put a spotlight on sexual misconduct by physicians. Last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 2,400 doctors who have been sanctioned for sexual misconduct involving patients since 1999. The report focused on a “culture of secrecy” and a tendency among state medical boards to fail to discipline physicians.

Failure to address allegations of misconduct by a Boston doctor, however, forced the resignation last month of a community health center’s chief executive and the chairman of its board of directors. The doctor himself was forced to resign from the health center over allegations of sexual harassment and bullying of co-workers and stepped down from positions at two prominent institutions after those allegations were made public by a newspaper investigation.

Editor's note: A statement from the Cleveland Clinic was added to the original article.