by Diane Turbyfill
Gaston Memorial Hospital and CaroMont Health face a civil lawsuit alleging that gross negligence by doctors and nurses led to a female patient reportedly being raped in a hospital emergency room last summer.
Despite a conviction of the rapist in Superior Court, the hospital, doctors and nurses named in the suit deny any wrongdoing.
Six days passed before the hospital reported the allegation to Gastonia Police Department, according to the police case report.
Howard Evan Gillespie Jr., 45, of Gastonia is serving time in Albemarle Correctional Institute for raping a patient at Gaston Memorial Hospital on July 19 of last year.
But the assaulted woman demands more justice than locking up the man who reportedly raped her in a hospital triage room.
Gillespie and his accuser were both patients in the psychiatric ward of the emergency department at Gaston Memorial Hospital at the time of the incident.
The Shelby woman, who was depressed and suicidal at the time, was given sedatives. Within the hour, Gillespie was put in the same room with the woman, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the two shared a room from 11:45 p.m. to 9 a.m., and that Gillespie repeatedly sexually assaulted the woman during a two-hour period. According to arrest warrants, the woman was medicated to the point where she was physically and mentally incapacitated at the time of the attack.
Rape reported at Gaston Memorial
The depressed woman was taken to Gaston Memorial Hospital about 11 p.m. by her mother.
She was checked into a triage area and given Percocet. Gillespie, a convicted felon with a history of assaulting women, was put in the same room shortly before midnight, according to the lawsuit.
The two did not know each other.
According to the suit, Gillespie sexually assaulted the woman “climbing on top of her, touching her, fondling her and engaging in contact of a sexual nature with her. While this occurred, plaintiff was either asleep or conscious but too groggy and weak to resist or prevent it or call for help.”
The woman was unable to defend herself from an attack because of medication. A warrant described the woman as “physically helpless.”
The woman reported the assault by 11 a.m. on July 20, according to the lawsuit. By 2 p.m. that day she was transferred to Stanley Regional Medical Center in Albemarle.
“My client complained immediately as soon as she was fully conscious and aware of what she perceived had gone on,” said Justin Lowenberger, the woman’s attorney in the civil suit.
But the report did not immediately get passed over to police. Lowenberger said he’s been told that hospital officials first launched an internal investigation.
Lowenberger said he was told by hospital officials that there were issues retrieving surveillance footage that captured the sexual assault. Once the tape was recovered several days later, the woman, her primary doctor and police were contacted, and Gastonia police then took over the investigation, said Lowenberger.
Endangerment and neglect
The 55-page civil lawsuit against Gaston Memorial accuses the facility and its employees of several breaches in hospital policies and violations of common industry standards that led to the alleged rape.
Placing a male patient with a criminal background in the same room with a sedated female amounted to “gross negligence,” according to the suit.
A nurse responsible for checking on patients every 15 minutes did not look in on the suicidal woman for hours, the lawsuit states.
When the woman reported the incident to a nurse the next morning, hospital staff attempted to deny and downplay the severity of the incident, according to court documents.
“Defendants failed to entertain, consider or take seriously plaintiff’s concerns, complaints and accusations, failed to investigate, failed to be diligent in inquiring and/or investigating, failed to report, made false reports and records, made material misrepresentations about what occurred and ignored the allegations made by plaintiff and others on her behalf until realization the assault was captured on videotape,” the lawsuit states.
Allegations against the hospital and staff listed in the suit include:
– Breach in policy by placing a male and female in the same triage room.
– Failure to conduct safety checks on psychiatric patients.
– Attempt to deny complaint from a patient.
– Gross negligence.
Defendants named in the lawsuit besides the hospital and CaroMont include: Robert Espisito, D.O., Jamie Falkowitz, D.O., Justin W. Morgan, M.D.; EMP Management Group LTD., Donald Klasing, M.D., Carrie Hill, R.N., Ed C. Robinson, R.N., Christine Cabral-Viola, E.C.T., Todd R. Davis, M.D., and Gaston Anesthesia Associates, P.A.
Gaston Anesthesia has since been dismissed from the civil suit.
When The Gazette first reported the allegations against Gillespie, hospital officials released a brief statement:
“At the appropriate time, and after the facts are more fully developed, we will be glad to provide further information, subject to any privacy regulations. CaroMont is in the business of caring for people, and it is important that we conduct ourselves here in a manner which is consistent with that.”
When contacted about the conclusion of the criminal case and the initiation of the civil case, the hospital released another written statement on Thursday. Hospital officials refused to answer any questions about the case, nor would they say if they had implemented any changes in hospital safety policies since the incident occurred.
“While CaroMont is unable to comment on the specifics of an open case, we consider quality of care and patient safety to be of paramount importance. We are unwavering in our commitment to provide excellent care in a safe environment, and work diligently to ensure that commitment is fulfilled.”
Olena Scarboro, public relations director at GMH, referred to the criminal case as an “isolated incident” but refused again to discuss what procedures are in place to ensure the safety of patients at the hospital.
Scarboro also refused a request by The Gazette to determine whether the doctors and nurses named in the civil suit were still employed by the hospital or if they faced any disciplinary action.
Denial of wrongdoing
Each of the defendants in the civil case has filed responses to the allegations with the Cleveland County courts, where the lawsuit was filed.
Hill, Robinson and Davis are represented by the same attorney as Gaston Memorial and CaroMont Health.
All other defendants have hired their own attorneys.
Each document either denies any wrongdoing on the parts of the facility or its staff or says the defendant doesn’t have enough information to respond to the allegations.
Responses from defense attorneys deny that Gillespie was ever placed in the room with the woman. Virtually the only admission is that the woman reported the rape at 11 a.m. and was transferred to another hospital by 2:45 p.m.
In one of the hospital responses, the defense attorney writes that the hospital and its employees were not “in any way or manner negligent in the treatment and evaluation of the plaintiff… and that all evaluation, care and treatment of the plaintiff was rendered within the standard of care applicable…”
Phone calls made to each of the defense attorneys were not returned except for James Williams who represents Cabral-Viola. He was out of town and unable to discuss the case.
Punishment for rapist
Gillespie was charged with second-degree rape and held on a $150,000 bond.
He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of attempted second-degree rape in January and a judge sentenced him to eight to 10 years in prison as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
His prior prison record in North Carolina dates back to 1983, which includes convictions for assault and property crimes. He was released from prison on Feb. 5 after a July 2009 conviction for habitual misdemeanor assault.
He has since been convicted of two unrelated felonies. His projected release date is 2023.
Gillespie should have paid a stiffer penalty for the reported hospital rape, according to Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell.
Bell worked on prosecuting the case. But the civil suit filed by the woman Gillespie attacked snagged the judicial process, said Bell.
According to Bell, the woman’s attorneys in the civil case kept her from testifying and made prosecutors rely solely on a surveillance tape of the incident. He accused the attorneys of “meddling” in his case.
Lowenberger said that simply isn’t true.
“We would always cooperate with the district attorney’s office and never interfere,” he said.
Scarring and healing
“The gravity of what happened speaks for itself,” he said.
The woman suffered grievous injuries, embarrassment, humiliation, devastation and extreme mental and emotional pain, according to the lawsuit.
The Gazette requested an interview with the victim but Lowenberger said he advises his clients not to talk to media until a case is concluded.
Plaintiffs in civil suits do not set a dollar amount for compensation. A jury or judge would set the amount awarded if Lowenberger wins the case.
Lowenberger said he’s in the midst of going over discovery in the case.
The next hearing is set for mid-June.
According to court documents, the case won’t go to trial until September 2013.