Dr. Patrick Sutton will no longer hold a leadership role at Huntington Memorial Hospital and will have a chaperone with him while treating women in the maternity ward. Sutton has also been removed from the list of doctors who are on call to deliver babies. He has practiced at Huntington since 1989.
The decision came in the wake of accusations regarding sexual misconduct spanning three decades with the most recent occurring in 2016. The medical board accused Sutton, 64, of making inappropriate comments to a patient two years ago regarding her physical appearance and sex life. This case marks the fifth complaint against the physician by a female patient in his care.
The doctor’s attorney, Gary Wittenberg, noted the complaints have been few and far between considering Sutton has held his role for three decades. “The allegations in the pending accusation are untrue and we will prove that in court. The changes at Huntington Hospital were agreed to by Dr. Sutton and are temporary, pending our successful defense to these baseless allegations,” Wittenberg said.
Huntington President and Chief Executive Dr. Lori J. Morgan said, “I am very troubled by these allegations. Huntington Hospital takes seriously all issues of patient health and safety, and we are working closely with medical staff to receive updates in this matter.”
Eileen Neuwirth, the hospital’s communications director, added, of the doctor’s role change, “These changes are effective immediately as we await results of further review by the Medical Board of California and our medical staff.” Neuwirth indicated Huntington’s staff was performing a confidential peer review of Sutton’s practice and noted that, under state law, internal evaluations of physicians were confidential, and the hospital is not “permitted to disclose any details about the peer review.”
Prior to the hospital’s decision, Sutton had been chair-elect of its obstetrics and gynecology department and was set assume control of the department in January 2019. He had delivered more than 6,000 children during his career.
The allegations date as far back as 1998 when, after a prenatal appointment, a patient complained to the medical board that Sutton had asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life and inserted his ungloved fingers inside her during an ultrasound exam. After an investigation by the medical board, the doctor was accused of gross negligence and sexual misconduct for “needlessly and inappropriately sexualizing her physical examination.”
Under a settlement agreement, Sutton admitted to another charge involving a different patient — failure to keep and maintain adequate and accurate records — and was placed on probation for four years. The doctor was also ordered to complete a class on maintaining professional boundaries, and the sexual misconduct charge was left unproven.
In 2005, while still on probation, Sutton was accused by two patients of sexual battery and sexual harassment. The women alleged improper touching, crude sexual comments, and intrusive questions about their bodies and habits. The patients and Sutton also reached a confidential settlement.
Following a 2008 appointment, another patient complained to the board that the doctor had overstepped his role by asking her a series of explicit questions and instructing her to call him to share “a fantasy or ‘any new sexual adventure.’” In a settlement with the board, Sutton again admitted to failing to maintain records, and the allegations were dropped. He was placed on probation for three years and ordered to enroll in psychotherapy as well as another class on maintaining professional boundaries.
In the most recent case, the Sutton allegedly told a woman seeking treatment for a cyst “that he really could not see ‘down there’ because she was really hairy.” After Sutton’s female office assistant left the room to answer a telephone, according to the filing, he asked the woman, “Do you have sex?” The filing stated, she “replied, ‘No,’ adding that she had an abusive relationship and now dedicated her life to her kids,” according to the filing. Sutton continued pressing her, asking, “Do you enjoy orgasms? You are a very beautiful woman.” The patient, who was wearing a paper gown, “was intimidated and did not know how to get out of the situation,” according to the filing.
“Commenting on a patient’s appearance is never appropriate in the field of gynecology,” the board lawyer wrote.