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New Legislation in Ohio Targets Sexual Abuse in Healthcare

In a significant legislative move, the Ohio Senate has unanimously passed Senate Bill 109, aimed at bolstering protections for patients from sexually abusive medical professionals. 

The bill, now headed to the House for consideration, introduces stringent measures to ensure greater accountability and patient safety within the medical profession.

Proposed by State Sen. Bob Hackett of London, the legislation mandates that doctors on probation for sexual misconduct must notify their patients in writing. 

This requirement is part of a broader initiative to allow the State Medical Board of Ohio to respond more swiftly to allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Furthermore, the bill stipulates that prosecuting attorneys must inform the board if a doctor is convicted or pleads guilty to specific felony or misdemeanor charges in court.

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This legislative action was catalyzed by the case of Dr. Richard Strauss, a former Ohio State University physician who committed suicide in 2015 after being accused of sexually abusing at least 177 students and athletes. 

The discovery in 2018 that the Ohio Medical Board had previously dismissed complaints against Strauss sparked outrage and a demand for reform.

The bill’s reintroduction in 2023 and again in 2024 followed a comprehensive investigation by The Dispatch into the State Medical Board of Ohio’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations over a 42-year period. 

This investigation revealed that from 1980 through 2022, at least 256 Ohio doctors were disciplined for sexual misconduct, involving the abuse or harassment of 449 patients.

The legislative process garnered support from medical professionals within the Senate itself, including Sens. Terry Johnson and Stephen Huffman, both of whom voted in favor of the bill. 

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Sen. Huffman expressed his belief that the legislation should have been enacted sooner, reflecting on the typical timeline for such reforms.

The bill aims to enhance transparency within the State Medical Board and close loopholes that previously allowed misconduct to go unchecked. 

While the bill received unanimous support in the Senate, its fate in the House remains uncertain. 

However, Gov. Mike DeWine has expressed his support, and Sen. Hackett is optimistic about its passage within the coming months.

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During the Senate hearings, only two testimonies were presented in favor of the bill. 

One was from Stephanie Loucka, the executive director of the medical board, who is eager to collaborate with the House to see the bill become law. 

The other testimony was from Leanna Rocheleau, a victim of sexual assault by a massage therapist, who shared her painful journey towards seeking justice and reform.

Rocheleau’s compelling story highlighted the slow response of the medical board to her case and her subsequent advocacy for legislative change.

As Senate Bill 109 moves to the House, it carries with it the hopes of many who seek to make the medical profession safer and more accountable.