Despite Decades of Misconduct Allegations, Prominent Pasadena Obstetrician Still Allowed to Practice
A prominent Los Angeles-area obstetrician has denied allegations by more than 20 former patients that he assaulted, harassed or harmed them during treatment, according to a newspaper investigation.
The claims against Dr. Patrick Sutton include unwanted sexual advances, medical incompetence, the maiming of women’s genitals and the preventable death of an infant, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. The allegations date to 1989, Sutton’s first year at Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital.
Diane Vidalakis said she was at the hospital for the delivery of her first child when Sutton arrived in what she and her husband would later testify was a frenzied state. He shouted that he had to do an emergency cesarean section and then backtracked, picked up a pair of scissors and made three progressively deeper incisions into the base of Vidalakis’ vagina, according to interviews, court records and a medical board complaint.
A minute later, she delivered a healthy daughter. Vidalakis never regained control of her bowels, and specialists who examined her expressed shock with her injuries, the Times said.
“I never challenged or questioned his authority,” Vidalakis said in an interview. Without admitting wrongdoing, Sutton settled a 2011 lawsuit she and her husband filed for $750,000.
Vidalakis and many other women who did not know Sutton had a long history of patient complaints about his conduct before, during and after labor, according to the newspaper.
Hospital administrators continued backing Sutton and he led internal investigations of other obstetricians for several years. After the Times reported in October that he faced a fifth accusation of sexual impropriety in court or by the medical board, the hospital announced he would have a chaperone while treating patients.
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.
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.
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.
Madelaine Hill, who saw Sutton during a 1989 pregnancy said he had a “soothing” approach, but the way he touched her was unsettling.
“He would play with my nipples, and a couple times, after he did the vaginal exam, he touched my clitoris,” Hill said. “It was scary.”
Her husband, from whom she is now separated, said she told him at the time about Sutton’s inappropriate touching.
Sutton delivered their son by cesarean section in July 1989. After Sutton touched Hill’s clitoris at a postpartum visit, she decided to stop seeing him, she said.
Sutton denied molesting any patients.
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 re-examine how it grants doctors privileges to practice.
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.