QUEENS, NY – A major bill sponsored by Assembly Member Aravella Simotas (D-36) was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo to enact new regulations requiring the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) to provide greater access to information on patients’ rights and reporting professional misconduct. This legislation was inspired by the testimony of advocate Marissa Hoechstetter at the 2019 joint legislative hearing on sexual harassment.
Hoechstetter was one of over twenty survivors who reported being sexually assaulted by former gynecologist Robert Hadden. Since coming forward, she has fought to reform the systems that enabled this serial predator to retain access to patients for more than two decades.
“Abuse cannot be stopped in the dark,” Simotas said. “This law will send a strong message that any abuse, and especially abuse at the hands of those society trusts most, will not be tolerated or protected. This new law will create transparency, empower survivors on the choices they make to pursue justice, and prevent abuse from continuing. I am incredibly grateful to Marissa Hoechtetter for her courage to shine a light on this problem, and for her strength and determination to create positive change for survivors of sexual harassment and assault.”
In order to provide proper care, patients place a great deal of trust in their doctors. When medical professionals abuse that trust, whether through sexual violence or other forms of misconduct, patients can go through a great deal of trauma and shock. Survivors of such violence may wish to report their abusers, but in taking steps to find information online, they may face barriers in accessing proper information on reporting procedures. The website for the OPMC currently offers no guidance on these issues and does not explicitly mention their role in receiving complaints of sexual harassment and assault by medical professionals.
“Doctors who sexually assault or harass patients violate trust and abuse their power. They must be held accountable. Patients deserve to know that they have a right to report and have their claims investigated,” Hoechstetter said. “By requiring the Office of Professional Medical Conduct to specifically state that sexual assault and harassment of patients is misconduct, there will be no grey area. And, by requiring physician's offices to post information about OPMC as a resource, patients will be better informed. I am grateful to Assemblywoman Simotas and the legislature for seeing this through. By signing the bill into law, New York is making it clear that sexual assault of patients is intolerable.”
Simotas’ law aims to improve the ability of survivors to report misconduct and remedy the lack of accessible information on the options available to them. The OPMC will now have to post information on its website on patients’ rights and reporting options regarding professional misconduct. Physicians’ practice settings will also be required to post signage that directs patients to the OPMC website for this information.