Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

How to Unlock Details on Problem Physicians

Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

How to Unlock Details on Problem Physicians

Article excerpt

It had been more than 18 months since Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician, had been arrested for sexually assaulting hundreds of patients.

MSU and USAG had repeatedly defended their handling of the case by saying Nassar was a monstrous abnormality for which no one could prepare.

The Atlanta Journal- Constitution had already proved that wrong. In 2016, the paper reported that thousands of doctors nationwide had been disciplined for sexual abuse since 1999, but that weaknesses in every state had allowed scores of them to continue working.

I wanted to do due diligence for Michigan.

In the Lansing State Journal newsroom, we'd made some attempts at tackling the issue, but hadn't gotten very far. The AJC's reporting found the federal database of punished doctors was hard to unlock, and the day-to-day business of the Nassar scandal meant few of our reporters had time to dig deeper. But sometimes, the information you're after is available elsewhere. This was the case in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs regularly posts online reports detailing the various types of complaints its investigators handled in the previous year, allowing me to quickly discover 238 allegations of sexual misconduct by health professionals between fiscal years 2011 and 2016.

The agency also posts tallies of all disciplinary actions by its licensing boards, and it maintains websites where consumers can look up professionals to verify their licenses and view detailed reports on any punishment by licensing boards.

By combining information from those reports into a spreadsheet, I made a list of 30 health care professionals - from medical doctors to counselors to massage therapists to athletic trainers - whose licenses were suspended or revoked in the previous year for sexual misconduct. That list included Nassar, whose license was first suspended in January 2017.

I also showed that at least two of them had been disciplined at least once before for sexual impropriety but were allowed to keep working in Michigan before committing similar wrongdoing. …

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