Columbia University says it will notify 6,500 former patients about gynecologist’s abuse

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By Dan Sears

Ten months after disgraced gynecologist Robbert Hadden was federally convicted of sexually abusing patients, Columbia University has agreed to tell his 6,500 former patients about his crimes.

Hadden was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July after being convicted of encouraging four patients to cross state lines, then sexually assaulting them at their appointments. He had previously pleaded guilty in state court in 2016, losing his license but avoiding prison time.

Last week, Gothamist reported on the ways victims of Hadden and other doctors have been seeking institutional accountability from Columbia University and other medical institutions for years — filing lawsuits, pleading for an internal investigation, and sending a letter to the state Attorney General to look into the matter.

The announcement Monday leaves little time for some to file lawsuits. There are just 10 days left for victims of sexual abuse who would otherwise be beyond the statute of limitations to file lawsuits in New York under the Adult Survivors Act. The measure lifted the legal time limit to file such cases for a one year period ending Nov. 23.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik and CEO of the medical center Dr. Katrina Armstrong announced in a press release a “multi-pronged” plan to “address the abuse, harm, and trauma inflicted by former gynecologist Robert Hadden and to support survivors.” The plan includes a commitment to an external investigation that will examine the circumstances that allowed Hadden’s abuse to continue, as well as an agreement to notify nearly 6,500 former patients of the crimes for which he’s been convicted and sentenced.

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“We owe it to the courageous survivors and the entire Columbia community to fully reckon with Hadden’s abuses,” Shafik and Armstrong said in a statement. “Columbia failed these survivors, and for that we are deeply sorry. This announcement aims to ensure we are on a path that repairs harm and prevents further trauma – moving us forward and rebuilding the trust of our entire community.”

The plan laid out by Columbia also offers survivors to participate in a new $100 million dollar survivor’s settlement fund, and launch a center for patient safety with outside experts to review the medical center’s current policies, according to the announcement.

Hadden survivor and advocate Marissa Hoechstetter said that while she thinks it’s an important milestone in the fight for institutional accountability, it may be too little too late.

“It’s heartbreaking to see a willingness to do the thing that they should have done a long time ago with only a few days left on the adult survivors act and really I think, exponentially too low a number in a fund when you look at what they’ve paid to date to a few hundred survivors, and you think about them notifying 6,500 survivors,” she told Gothamist. “I want to take this as an important milestone, but I’m also really skeptical we’ll follow through on watching and making sure they deliver on their promises.”

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Columbia University has already reached two settlements involving 231 patients who sued the institution, totaling $236 million.

In a joint statement, Hoechstetter and fellow survivor and advocate Evelyn Yang again demanded more money in the fund as well as more details on their plans to reach out to patients.

“If the University is serious about justice and making amends, it will increase the amount of the settlement fund, make clear how it intends to reach approximately 6,500 former Hadden patients before the expiration of the Adult Survivors Act on November 23, and publish regular updates on its progress with these matters,” they said.

Assemblymember Grace Lee, who led an effort by elected officials, survivors and Columbia students last month to demand that Columbia notify former patients of Hadden’s abuse and conduct an internal investigation, said she was encouraged by Columbia’s response and would work to ensure Columbia sees its promises through.

“Notifying Hadden’s former patients is a paramount first step in the process because it validates survivors’ experiences and gives them a valuable opportunity to seek justice before the Adult Survivors Act expires this month,” she said in an emailed statement. “In addition, the internal investigation will work to help prevent systemic abuses like this from happening again. I will continue to work with my colleagues and survivors to ensure the university lives up to the promises it has made today.”

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Anthony T. DiPietro, an attorney for hundreds of Hadden survivors who filed 300 more lawsuits against Columbia last month, said in a statement he was not supportive of the plan and warned victims from partaking in the fund, encouraging them to speak to an attorney instead.

“Unfortunately, the notification is tied to a glorified scheme that Columbia devised to strip patients of their full legal rights, while encouraging them to participate in a private, underfunded, settlement process designed by Columbia, without any input from victims and survivors,” DiPietro said in a written statement.

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