The University of Southern California Tuesday revealed a nearly two-year-old investigation into the practices of the student health center’s former gynecologist, finding that he made racist and sexually inappropriate comments and conducted improper pelvic exams.
USC President Max Nikias acknowledged complaints about the doctor in a letter to USC students, alumni and faculty that alluded to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, which subsequently reported that concerns about the gynecologist dated back decades. The newspaper had been investigating Dr. George Tyndall for months prior to the university’s acknowledgment.
According to Nikias, the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity got a complaint about Tyndall in June 2016 and immediately launched an investigation — which included surveying 2,500 student patients — and placed Tyndall, now 71, on administrative leave. USC terminated the gynecologist’s employment in June 2017.
In addition to the racially and sexually inappropriate comments, medical assistants questioned Tyndall’s practice of digital insertion before using a speculum to conduct pelvic exams. While one expert consulted by the university said it could be considered an acceptable practice, an independent reviewer called the practice “outdated and not current standard of care,” according to a summary of the investigation linked to Nikias’ letter.
Tyndall himself has defended his practice as appropriate, according to the university.
Investigators found that earlier complaints had been made, but the then-health center director chose to manage them internally. The director brought one complaint about racist comments to the Office of Equity and Diversity in 2013, but the evidence was found to be inconclusive with some students saying they “loved him” and others calling him “creepy,” according to USC’s summary of facts.
However, the Los Angeles Times reported complaints dating back to the 1990s, when co-workers alleged that the doctor inappropriately photographed students’ genitals. The newspaper accused the school of ignoring repeated reports about Tyndall — reportedly the health center’s lone full-time gynecologist for nearly 30 years — until a frustrated nurse reported him to a campus rape center, leading to his suspension.
The university’s summary said photos found in the doctor’s office related to disease and abnormalities, did not identify patients, and could have been used for clinical reference.
The university said its student survey did not turn up any additional complaints. However, the newspaper said its story was based on interviews with more than 20 students and also noted concerns raised by Tyndall’s colleagues alleging he specifically preyed on Chinese students unfamiliar with American medical standards.
When Tyndall left USC, he told administrators he would retire from medicine, but earlier this year asked to be reinstated. That led the university to file a complaint with the California Medical Board, according to USC.
“In hindsight, we should have made this report eight months earlier,” Nikias wrote.
Experts engaged by USC concluded that Tyndall’s actions were not criminal offenses, he said. When the Los Angeles Times wrote the university to suggest that additional information was available, administrators decided to contact the District Attorney’s Office, which referred them to the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Nikias.
“While we have no evidence of criminal conduct, we have no doubt that Dr. Tyndall’s behavior was completely unacceptable,” he wrote.
A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said there was no active or ongoing investigation of Tyndall underway. He urged anyone with more information to call (833) 889-8833 or report it online at usc.mycompliancereport.com.
Nikias, in addressing the USC community, wrote: “We understand how difficult this may be, and we pledge to handle your outreach with compassion and sensitivity. We stand resolute in bringing all facts — however difficult — to light.”
He added: “Nothing is more important to me, or to our community, than the health and safety of our students. As the parent of two daughters who were undergraduates and graduate students at USC, I understand how vital it is for the university to do everything it can to care for the students who put their trust in us.”
The university has been forced to deal with two other high-profile cases involving doctors tied to the university.
Former dean and long-time USC fundraiser Dr. Carmen Puliafito was fired by the school in the wake of a Los Angeles Times report that he abused heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, including on days he worked as an eye doctor in university facilities. The newspaper also reported that a 21-year-old prostitute overdosed while taking drugs with Puliafito at a Pasadena hotel and accused the university of turning a blind eye to complaints about the dean.
Puliafito’s replacement, Dr. Rohit Varma, resigned as the Los Angeles Times was preparing to publish a story disclosing that he had been formally disciplined by USC in 2003 following allegations that he sexually harassed a young researcher while he was a junior professor supervising her work.
Nikias did not reference the other incidents directly, but said recent issues have led to a plan to restructure USC’s operations. He said the action plan — designed to improve university culture and its commitment to students, as well as to focus on the way complaints are handled and investigations are coordinated — would be rolled out in the “near future.”
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