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Doctors Behaving Badly: Dr. Bruce Anthony Ames, Jr.

Doctors Behaving Badly: Dr. Bruce Anthony Ames, Jr.

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Ask your doctors about the hardest period of their lives, and they likely will say their medical residency. The hours are long. The work is mentally and physically exhausting. There's little credit when you get something right. Getting something terribly wrong can send you packing.

Dr. Bruce Anthony Ames, Jr. (Oregon License No. 23261, California 97046) found a hobby, of sorts, to relieve his stress.

After attending medical school at St. George's University in Grenada, he did a residency in internal medicine at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners says he "engaged in a series of sexual liaisons with at least five adult female hospital staff members." And when he wasn't having sex with a nurse or orderly or front desk clerk, he was downloading pornography
from the hospital computers. That resulted in a reprimand from the residency program. The program, though, left it up to Ames to tell any future employer about his hobby. When he was hired by Providence Medical Group outside Medford, Oregon, in August 2001, he did not mention his past indiscretions.

While working as a family practice physician for Providence, he downloaded more porn at the office. He also had more than virtual sex. He had a two-year sexual relationship with a patient. It didn't seem to bother him that he was treating her, her husband and her children.

He took a lunch break and stopped by another patient's home, exposing himself to her and forcing him to touch his genitals. He then picked her up and carried her into her bedroom where she was able to fight her way free.

And it wasn't just patients who caught his attention. He was seen taking a female employee into his office and locking the door at odd times. He ended up leaving his wife and marrying the employee, according to the board.

He eventually admitted some of these things to Providence Medical Group and admitted that he had fantasized about having sex with other patients, according to the board. It was his near-daily porn habit, though, that finally got him bounced in 2005.

Like his residency program, the medical group left it up to Ames to tell anyone - including the Oregon medical board - about his proclivities. The medical group kept quiet and he kept quiet. So he was hired to work as a hospitalist at Providence Medford Medical Center in 2006 - the same Providence that runs the medical group. He kept his options open, though, obtaining a license to practice medicine in California, too.

While at the hospital, he started seeing a former patient he had treated for cervical cancer in 2004. They ended up having sex from December 2006 until April 2007, including what the board called a "liaison at Rogue Valley Medical Center in the on-call room." In a typical piece of agency understatement, the board wrote, "The sexual relationship later caused significant emotional distress both to Patient F and her spouse."

My guess is that the husband is the one who ended up calling the medical board. It's not clear from the board's actions. The board did act swiftly, though, and on Nov. 1, 2007, it took the rare step of temporarily suspending Ames' license. Eight months later, on July 10, 2008, the board and Ames had worked out an agreement for him to surrender his license entirely. On Feb. 20, 2009, the Medical Board of California also took away Ames' license.

The reason medical boards frown on doctors having sex with patients is akin to why people don't like university professors having sex with their students. Everyone is an adult, yes. But there is a power differential, and doctors are sworn to make decisions about their patients' care that are unclouded by their emotions or other agendas. The Oregon board didn't say that Ames had been too loose with his zipper. They said he had committed "unprofessional or dishonorable conduct" and "repeated acts of negligence."

This case is a perfect illustration of what Public Citizen found about the peer review system. When the medical group affiliated with a hospital doesn't inform that hospital about a serious pattern of sexually abusive behavior, there is something deeply wrong with the system. In Oregon, 30% of the hospitals have never reported a case of physician discipline. Ames' case shows how a doctor's dirty little secrets can be hidden over the years - even when so many people know that something is wrong.

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