State Medical Board of Ohio officials knew of former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss’ abuse of students and student-athletes as early as 1996, and yet no one with this knowledge moved to involve law enforcement or revoke his license, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a press conference Friday.
Strauss was employed by the university from 1978 to 1998, and during his tenure served as a team doctor for 17 men’s varsity sports and physician at the Student Health Center. An independent investigation commissioned by Ohio State, which began in April 2018, found that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 student-athletes and students, according to a report released in May 2019. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
DeWine called on the medical board to thoroughly investigate all sexual assault allegations against licensed medical personnel that have been investigated and closed without any action in the past 25 years.
“I have deep concerns that there could be other cases similar to this one – cases where there was clear evidence of criminal misconduct, but that evidence was ignored,” DeWine said in a press release. “The examination of these cases will be a major undertaking, but it’s the right thing to do. We cannot risk that there are other sexual assault cases that were mishandled and other predator physicians still practicing medicine.”
His investigative group, created in May, reviewed the medical board’s investigation and found that the investigation was launched in July 1996 after an investigator learned that Strauss’ authority to see patients had been suspended by the university.
The medical board’s investigation reached its conclusion in December 1996. Although case notes from February 1997 indicate that a medical board attorney planned to move forward with the case, it sat inactive until the case was administratively closed in 2002, according to a press release.
The group found that the 1996 investigation had evidence to show that Strauss was taking inappropriate action with his patients.
“[T]he information provided shows that Dr. Strauss has been performing inappropriate genital exams on male students for years. This has been brought to the attention of officials at the university and just recently action was taken,” the original investigation reads.
The investigative group’s report deemed the negligence of anyone in a position of authority at the university to initiate an investigation into Strauss’ conduct an “astounding failure.”
Ohio State said that it appreciated DeWine and his task force, and that the report’s findings will be analyzed in accordance with the university’s larger goal.
“We will thoroughly review the task force report and determine its implications for meeting our long-stated goal of releasing the complete, unredacted report of the independent Perkins Coie investigation,” university spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email. “Once again, we express compassion and concern with the survivors of Richard Strauss’ abuse.”
Ohio State has pushed for the release of an unredacted version of the independent investigation into the university’s knowledge of Strauss’ abuse.
The State Medical Board said that its investigation of sexual misconduct cases have improved since the misconduct of Richard Strauss.
“We have streamlined the complaint intake process and now triage alleged sexual boundary violations with the highest priority,” State Medical Board of Ohio Spokesperson Tessie Pollock said in an email. “Investigations are more survivor-focused, more psychologically minded, and take advantage of the research that has been done in this area.”
Pollock said the medical board will implement the recommended procedural changes and continue to make improvements to better protect victims.
According to records analyzed by the working group, interviews with Ohio State employees were initiated in 1996, and it was discovered that Strauss’ ability to see patients at the health center was suspended. The investigator then recommended to her supervisor that an investigation be opened.
An enforcement attorney planned to continue the investigation and subpoena records with the knowledge that Strauss had opened an off-campus men’s clinic and ran advertisements in The Lantern, according to the report. This plan was approved by the chief enforcement attorney, and more than 19 months after the approval, Strauss’ medical license expired.
Nearly five and a half years after the medical board’s investigation into Strauss was opened, it was administratively closed, the report states. No documentation of the rationale for the closure of the case or a closing letter could be found.
The report states that the initial medical board investigator who prompted the Strauss investigation was under the impression that there would be a companion investigation into the doctors’ failure to report Strauss’ actions. That investigation was deemed to be “opened in error” in January 1997.
The working group could not determine what action was taken with law enforcement because such a referral would have to be approved by the secretary and supervising member of the board, and both of those former members are deceased.
The report states that the medical board “had the opportunity to take meaningful and timely action” against Strauss either by taking action against his license or his ability to see patients.
“For reasons that simply cannot be determined from the files still available or known or recalled by anyone interviewed by this working group, the investigation fell into what one former employee called a ‘black hole,’” working group members wrote in their report. “Nothing from the individuals interviewed or from the investigation records indicates that the medical board staff involved law enforcement.”
The working group’s report provided seven recommendations for the State Medical Board to further address physician sexual impropriety in light of the review of the Strauss investigation, including identifying any current Ohio medical license holders who may have known about Strauss’ actions and failed to report them as well as developing a protocol to work closely with law enforcement by the end of 2019.
DeWine’s investigators also recommended ensuring that investigations are opened at the appropriate time, deciding if further action should be taken on a physician’s license and refraining from using investigation confidentiality afforded in the Ohio Revised Code in situations such as Strauss in order to maintain transparency.
The group suggested reviewing the board’s current workflow and structure and begin using victims as advocates with further training in matters pertaining to sexual impropriety.
This page will be updated with more information throughout the day.