In the wake of revelations that a prominent Pasadena obstetrician had been accused repeatedly of sexual misconduct, Huntington Memorial Hospital announced Friday that the doctor no longer had a leadership role at the hospital and will have a chaperone when treating women in the maternity ward.
A hospital spokeswoman also said Dr. Patrick Sutton, who has practiced at Huntington since 1989, has been removed from the list of doctors who are on call to deliver babies at the hospital.
“These changes are effective immediately as we await results of further review by the Medical Board of California and our medical staff,” said Eileen Neuwirth, the hospital’s communications director.
The medical board accused Sutton, 64, in a Sept. 24 filing of making inappropriate comments to a patient about her appearance and sex life during a 2016 appointment. The Times reported the board action Monday and noted that it was the fifth complaint against the doctor for sexual misconduct toward a woman in his care.
Sutton has not responded to the most recent accusation and settled the previous four without any admission of sexual misconduct. Reached by phone Friday, he confirmed that his private practice near the hospital remained open but referred additional questions to his attorney.
In an email to The Times, attorney Gary Wittenberg noted that only “a few patients” in Sutton’s long career had complained and that his client voluntarily cooperated with medical board investigations that resulted in probation only for medical record-keeping issues.
“The allegations in the pending accusation are untrue and we will prove that in court,” Wittenberg said in the email. “The changes at Huntington Hospital were agreed to by Dr. Sutton and are temporary, pending our successful defense to these baseless allegations.”
Neuwirth said Huntington’s medical staff committee was performing a confidential peer review of Sutton’s practice.
Sutton was until Friday chair-elect of Huntington’s nationally ranked obstetrics and gynecology department and due to assume control of the department in January. He is one of the most experienced obstetricians at the hospital, having delivered by his count more than 6,000 children during his three-decade career.
Although he was well known in Pasadena medical circles, the accusations against him over the past 20 years were not. Following a 1998 prenatal appointment, a patient complained to the medical board that Sutton had asked her what she called inappropriate questions about her sex life and inserted his ungloved fingers inside her during an ultrasound exam.
After an investigation, the board accused Sutton of gross negligence and sexual misconduct for “needlessly and inappropriately sexualizing her physical examination.”
Under a settlement agreement, he admitted to another charge involving a different patient — failure to keep and maintain adequate and accurate records — and was placed on probation for four years. The sexual misconduct charge was deemed unproven. He was ordered to complete a class on maintaining professional boundaries.
In 2005, while still on probation, Sutton was accused by two patients of sexual battery and sexual harassment in a Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit. The women alleged improper touching, crude sexual comments and intrusive questions about their bodies and sexual habits, according to a draft complaint in the case, which has since been destroyed by court officials.
The patients and Sutton reached a confidential settlement.
Following a 2008 appointment, another patient complained to the medical board about Sutton. The woman said that Sutton asked her a series of explicit and inappropriate questions about her sexual practices and instructed her to call him to share “a fantasy or ‘any new sexual adventure.’”
In a settlement with the board, Sutton again admitted failing to maintain medical records, and the allegations of sexual misconduct were dropped. He was placed on probation for three years and ordered to enroll in psychotherapy as well as another class on maintaining professional boundaries.
In the most recent accusation, the medical board alleged that Sutton told a woman seeking treatment for a cyst “that he really could not see ‘down there’ because she was really hairy,” according to the board filing.
After Sutton’s female office assistant left the room to answer a telephone, according to the medical board filing, the doctor asked the woman, “Do you have sex?”
“She replied, ‘No,’ adding that she had an abusive relationship and now dedicated her life to her kids,” according to the filing.
Sutton continued pressing her, according to the court papers, asking, “Do you enjoy orgasms, you are a very beautiful woman?”
The patient, who was wearing a paper gown, “was intimidated and did not know how to get out of the situation,” the medical board filing said.