Wednesday marked the first meeting of a state panel charged with looking into the Ohio Medical Board's handling of sexual abuse complaints against longtime Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss.
Independent investigators determined Strauss sexually assaulted at least 177 men as a physician at Ohio State from the 1970s-1990s, as well as at an outside medical clinic. But complaints about the doctor submitted to the state medical board were blacked out in their report, at the board's request.
Department of Public Safety director Tom Stickrath leads the panel reviewing how the board handled those allegations.
“We’re going to look backward at what should’ve happened even under existing law or just good practice back in that day, but again, importantly is what should we do now, and what are those best practices now,” Stickrath says.
Gov. Mike DeWine established the panel by executive order last week. Because the group is an investigative body, it is legally allowed to view documents otherwise shielded by confidentiality requirements.
DeWine’s order calls for them to look into whether the medical board “thoroughly and appropriately investigated and responded to allegations of sexual abuse,” as well as review current policy.
Documents the medical board receives as part of an investigation are confidential. The board shared files with the independent investigative team under the assumption they would remain secret. Those files cover a 1996 medical board investigation of Strauss that ultimately resulted in no disciplinary action.
Ohio State filed a motion in federal court asking a judge to permit the documents’ release, but the judge declined. Those portions of the Strauss report are redacted.
Stickrath says the group will look for a way to balance confidentiality and the public’s need to know.
“I think it’s our goal to look for that balance,” Stickrath says. “There must be that balance somewhere with any type of confidentiality, but with that necessary transparency, so I think it’s part of our goal to look for that balance.”
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who sits on the panel, says he reviewed medical board material for potential criminal indictments.
“My focus was on any alleged cover-up that may have happened within the statute of limitations,” O’Brien explains. “So I did have the benefit of information from both the university and the medical board, and at least because of the confidentiality that may surround my access to that, I wouldn’t be able to comment on any impressions I may have made.”
O’Brien’s office has filed no such indictments thus far.