Olympic gymnasts abused by doctor back California bill to require physician disclosures for wrongdoing

Olympic gymnasts who hope to protect others from the kind of abuse they suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar are backing legislation in California.

The proposed law would make California the first state to require doctors to inform patients if they are on probation for wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct, according to the Associated Press.

The Olympic athletes spoke in support of the legislation Monday in California’s state capitol, the news agency said. "Every effort must be made to make sure patients have every piece of information that is vital to their health and safety," Jordyn Wieber, who won a gold medal in gymnastics at the 2012 Olympics, told reporters, the Associated Press reported.

Wieber was joined by gymnast Jamie Dantzscher, who won an Olympic bronze medal in 2000, several other female athletes and other women who say they were sexually abused by doctors, the news agency said.

The legislation, called the Patients’ Right to Know Act of 2018, could help protect women from abuse by doctors by requiring physicians placed on probation in all misconduct cases to tell patients about their status.

Nassar, who was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and a sports medicine physician at Michigan State University, was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting minors. He was accused of molesting at least 250 girls and young women, including a number of Olympic gymnasts.

 While the Nassar case is among the best known, he is not the only doctor in the headlines for sexual misconduct. In one of the strangest cases, doctors who are identical twins are both accused of sexual assault against female patients.

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A USA Today investigation earlier this year reported that it is not uncommon for hospitals to cover up sexual misconduct by doctors by reaching confidential settlements with patients, including the case of one of those physicians at the Cleveland Clinic.

The California legislation has been proposed by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill. "Currently, doctors have to notify their insurer, their hospital or clinic about their probation status, but patients receive no notice," Hill said. "They are left in the dark and susceptible to future abuse."

Previous versions of the legislation have failed twice. The California Medical Association opposed the bill, saying it is unfair and burdensome on physicians, the AP said.

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Given the damaging headlines, healthcare organizations should realize they will face repercussions for trying to sweep allegations of sexual misconduct under the rug. Hospitals and practices must have policies in place to address such behavior and be willing to investigate all complaints, including those against physicians. Organizations must also have processes in place for patients and others to report any concerns. Failure to address allegations can create legal liability and a publicity nightmare.