Report Finds ‘Pervasive’ Misconduct By Rockefeller University Doctor: Gothamist
Attorney James Marsh and sexual assault victims and other attorneys hold a news conference in front of Rockefeller University Hospital in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A once esteemed researcher perpetrated widespread sexual abuse against children at Rockefeller University Hospital during his nearly forty year tenure, according to a new investigation commissioned by the hospital.
The findings of the report released Thursday portray repeated misconduct by Dr. Reginald Archibald when he worked at the hospital between 1946 and 1982. It also highlights instances in which Archibald’s prestigious reputation contributed to the lack of punitive action taken by hospital superiors when complaints were made against him.
Over the past several decades, the investigation found that many former patients reported experiences of abuse to law enforcement officials and state agencies — and the hospital itself. None of those reports are shown to have resulted in any notable consequences for the doctor or the hospital. Archibald died in 2007.
The report, conducted by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLC, comes after the hospital publicly disclosed knowledge of accusations against Archibald last fall. Following a complaint from a former patient in March 2018, the hospital hired the law firm to investigate and solicit interviews from people with personal experience or knowledge of Archibald’s actions. The firm says it was contacted by over 900 individuals in response to widely mailed letters.
In a statement, the Rockefeller University Hospital said it “profoundly apologize[s] to those patients who experienced pain and suffering as a result of Dr. Archibald’s reprehensible conduct.” It said the hospital is providing financial support for counseling services for the doctor’s former patients. The hospital also said it reported accounts of sexual misconduct made in 2018 to state and federal authorities.
The institution’s reckoning comes at a turning point in New York state for victims of childhood sex abuse. The state legislature in January passed the long-stalled Child Victims Act, dramatically expanding the statute of limitations for filing civil and criminal complaints. Survivors also have one year to file civil lawsuits against individuals and institutions that were previously time-barred. That temporary window opens on August 14th.
While the 27-page report clearly acknowledged that Archibald abused many children, an admission that some attorneys say was obscured in earlier statements by the hospital, critics also said it failed to convey the breadth and calculation of Archibald’s misconduct.
“There are very significant ways in which the report is thin,” said Alex Goldenberg, an attorney with Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, which represents some of Archibald’s former patients who are considering filing claims under the new state law. “[It] fails to capture both the magnitude of what he did, and the consistent and calculated way in which he went about doing it.”
A spokesman for the hospital did not respond to further requests for comment about the report.
Archibald’s stated work focused on “childhood growth and maturation,” which also included evaluations of “sexual maturity,” according to the report. He saw thousands of clients over the course of his career. As part of his research methods and medical treatment, the report says Archibald often took nude photos of his patients and made measurements of their genitalia. Other former patients recounted instances of forced masturbation, fondling, and various types of inappropriate touching by the doctor, the report said. The report also notes that Archibald “frequently took semen samples” that had no “sufficient medical or research justification.”
Amid these graphic accounts, the report describes Archibald as widely revered and often appreciated by clients. “[H]e was highly regarded by colleagues as a researcher of integrity and high standards with apparently very good relationships with his patients and their families,” it states.
The report cites several instances where this image of Archibald contributed to decisions by hospital senior staff to disregard accusations against him.
“I find it alarming that there were so many indicators and warning lights surrounding this physician’s conduct that went unheeded and didn’t get escalated,” said Barbara Hart of the law firm Lowey Dannenberg, which is representing some of Archibald’s former clients who are also considering legal action against the hospital.
According to the findings, the physician-in-chief at the hospital from 1960-1974 told investigators from Debevoise & Plimpton that, during his tenure, he heard “several complaints” from patients, families and staff members in regards to Archibald’s methods. Although the physician-in-chief said he found parts of Archibald’s practice to be “questionable,” the law firm did not indicate that any corrective actions were taken against the doctor as a result of the complaints.
In 1996, another patient wrote a letter to the hospital counsel and the then-physician-in-chief describing inappropriate touching and forced masturbation by the doctor in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Archibald denied any misconduct and the matter was dismissed.
“The physician-in-chief at the time knew Archibald well and thought highly of him,” the report states. Archibald was then encouraged by management to send a written response to the complainant, who reportedly did not respond and has since died.
Despite various investigations by law enforcement and state agencies, Archibald was never charged or convicted of any crime. A grand jury convened by the New York County District Attorney’s Office in 1960 declined to file charges against him. The New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct was notified of allegations in 1996 and 2004, but no public charges were filed or action taken by the oversight board.
A spokeswoman for the state health department declined further comment. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
The report does not list any action taken by the hospital leadership against Archibald until well after his death. He was stripped of his emeritus faculty status and senior physician emeritus status in 2018.
The law firm hired to conduct the report, Debevoise & Plimpton, had previously been retained by the hospital to investigate an accusation against Archibald that surfaced in 2004. The report released Thursday described that complainant’s account, related to experiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as “inconsistent” but probable. The complainant reportedly stopped communicating with hospital counsel around 2004 and died soon after.
Disclosure: Debevoise & Plimpton represents WNYC on various matters.
Mara Silvers is an assistant producer at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @mara_silvers.