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Hope for Delaware Emerges After Disaster for Its Children

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Hope for Delaware Emerges After Disaster for Its Children

July 2011

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

On June 23, 2011, a Delaware judge found pediatrician Earl Bradley guilty on 24 counts of molesting dozens of his patients. Earlier investigations, revealed by Chris Barrish of The (Del.) News Journal in January 2010, reported that Bradley had “raped or molested more than 100 child patients and that complaints over a 15-year period about his inappropriate touching of girls never led to discipline or his arrest.”

During this time, government institutions, including law enforcement officials and the state’s Board of Medical Practice, as well as some physicians in Delaware, had been well aware of Bradley’s unconscionable behavior, but nothing had been done either to remove his license to practice medicine or to arrest him until well after additional, clearly preventable damage to children had occurred.

For example, in 1994, according to The News Journal, after being investigated in Philadelphia for allegedly touching a child improperly, Bradley moved his practice to the Delaware seashore town of Lewes and took a job at Beebe Medical Center.

Linda Ammons, dean of Widener Law in Delaware, investigated these events and found that:

  • When a judge would not let state police search Bradley’s office in December 2008, the judge told investigators he would sign a warrant for the pediatrician’s arrest, the report says. Prosecutors decided they didn’t have enough evidence to prove he was conducting inappropriate vaginal exams.
  • During the yearlong period from the judge’s denial until Bradley’s arrest in December 2009, the pediatrician allegedly raped or sexually abused nearly 50 young girls, a review of indictments shows.
  • Pennsylvania medical licensing authorities dismissed the original June 1994 complaint, and Philadelphia police decided the mother was “not credible,” Ammons wrote.
  • Delaware’s Board of Medical Practice, which issued Bradley a license in April 1994, discussed the above-stated complaint with Pennsylvania authorities but decided to take no action.

Largely because of the attention brought to this issue by Chris Barrish – who was awarded the national Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting – the Delaware Legislature passed several measures to strengthen the state’s medical practice act. As a result, its Board of Medical Practice has greatly increased the amount of discipline meted out to Delaware physicians during the past two years.

The new additions to the law include increased fines and the possibility of license revocation for medical officials who don’t obey their legal duty to report suspected misconduct by a doctor, doctor disciplinary hearings that are open to the public and easier processes for emergency suspension. Also, doctors seeking to get or renew a license must disclose all previous investigations into their behavior – not just those resulting in punishment.

In the Public Citizen Health Research Group’s annual ranking of serious disciplinary actions by state medical boards, Delaware had historically been one of the worst, ranking 50th in the country for three straight three-year periods ending in 2005.

But in the post-Bradley era of belated sensitivity to necessary improvement in protecting Delaware citizens from dangerous physicians, the board’s rank rose to 13th in the country for the three-year period ending in 2010. So far, in 2011, there have been 14 serious disciplinary actions against Delaware physicians, including four for sexual violations, one involving children.

Delaware now joins an increasing number of jurisdictions who have changed a long history of dangerously inadequate discipline of physicians. What they have in common is that almost entirely as a result of relentless reporting by the news media their newly awakened legislatures have started to pay more attention to this important issue. In the past decade, the boards in Arizona, the District of Columbia and North Carolina have greatly improved their protection of patients thanks to such reporting.