More than 20 women say Dr. Patrick Sutton, vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Huntington Memorial Hospital, mistreated them while providing medical care over nearly 40 years, it was reported Monday.
What many women who sought care from Sutton did not know was that he had a long history of patient complaints about his conduct before, during and after labor, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The women’s allegations of poor care and inappropriate conduct date to 1989, Sutton’s first year at Huntington, and include unwanted sexual advances, medical incompetence, the maiming of women’s genitals and the preventable death of an infant, according to the newspaper. Sutton denied each allegation in an interview with The Times.
The Times interviewed more than 60 people about Sutton’s practice, including patients, their spouses and family members, birth coaches, nurses, physicians, lawyers and other hospital employees. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity, with some citing potential professional repercussions.
Top Huntington administrators were warned repeatedly about Sutton over the decades, according to Times interviews with current and former administrators and other hospital employees. One obstetrician at the hospital told The Times she complained to Huntington’s chief medical officer and its compliance department on several occasions about what she saw as his poor clinical judgment and misogynistic remarks.
“No matter what concerns I had, they would continue to do nothing,” said Dr. Shawanda Renee Obey.
Unease about Sutton was so widespread at Huntington that some nurses adopted a policy of misleading him about the progress of a woman’s labor to keep him out of the delivery room for as long as possible, according to interviews with more than half a dozen current and former nurses.
But hospital administrators continued backing Sutton, even allowing him for several years to lead internal investigations of other obstetricians. After The Times reported in October that he was facing a fifth accusation of sexual impropriety in court or by the medical board, the hospital announced he would have a chaperone when treating patients.
In early November, the newspaper presented Huntington with a detailed list of questions for this story.
A hospital spokeswoman subsequently said that Sutton was no longer working there, “effective immediately.” In an interview last month, Sutton said the hospital asked him to take a leave of absence or face suspension and he agreed to the leave.
Sutton said he was a good doctor and that the patients who complained represented only a tiny fraction of the thousands of women he cared for during his career. He maintained that the hospital never took any disciplinary action against him until this fall. He also noted that he had prevailed in the only two malpractice cases in his career that went to trial.
“I agree my record looked kind of crappy, and I wish it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m any risk to patients at all or that patients don’t want to keep seeing me,” Sutton said.
Dr. Lori Morgan, Huntington’s chief executive, declined to answer questions about Sutton, citing state law that makes internal discipline of physicians confidential. She said the hospital’s governing board is forming a committee to reexamine how it grants doctors privileges to practice.
The medical board filed an accusation against Sutton in September, alleging that he made inappropriate sexual comments to a patient in 2016. He denies the claim.
No longer allowed to practice at Huntington, Sutton said he is pursuing positions at outpatient surgery centers, The Times reported.