Hospital sexual assaults: Who's checking them?

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Imagine the person who is supposed to be taking care of you during your most helpless and vulnerable moments, assaulting you instead.

“He was....touching me in places he shouldn't have been touching me," says Brianna Hammer.  "I woke up three hours later to him...on top of me."

It's still difficult for her to describe the sexual assault she says happened at the hands of a nurse while she was a patient at Cape Coral Hospital two years ago.  “And he said ‘oh, don't worry about it. Nobody will ever know."

Brianna filed a police report claiming the nurse sexually assaulted her, but her case back in 2015 didn't make it far because authorities say there was a lack of evidence to prove allegations against the nurse were true beyond a reasonable doubt.

Two years later, the state is now investigating the same nurse -- who's now accused of raping a 43-year-old woman at the same hospital.

This more recent case deepening Brianna's sense of betrayal.  “The fact that it happened again, they shouldn't have that safe place sign in front of their hospital."

Fox 4 spoke to an attorney who specializes in these types of cases.  His firm hears from plenty people who claim their bodies and trust have been violated in the very places where they were expecting to heal.

“I get probably calls on these cases at least once a week, probably more," says sexual abuse advocate Jeff Herman.

And he says by the time lawyers like him get involved, an attacker may have already had multiple victims without getting caught.  "I've never met victim number one."

So who's working to make sure there are no more victims? Well, to fight a problem, you have to know exactly what you're up against.  So we asked the state who's keeping track of these cases.

After several calls and emails to the Florida Department of Health, they responded by saying they process complaints against health care providers like the nurse in the Cape Coral case. 

They pointed us to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.  Wo we called that agency, asking for the number of complaints filed against doctors and nurses at six hospitals in Lee County.

It took more than 40 days to get a response. When they finally did respond, they said, they could only confirm the incident at Cape Coral Hospital, but didn't really give us a clear answer.

So we turned back to the attorney representing hospital patients who have been violated, and asked who's keeping these hospitals accountable?  "Well, frankly, nobody," said Herman.

And since many victims don't report the assault, or decline to press charges, there's no public record that could warn future patients who to look out for after they're admitted.

Herman says at the very least the state should keep a public data base of the accusations.  "Some people would say oh that's not fair, it's just an accusation.  But here's the practical problem, most of these cases do not get critically prosecuted."

For Brianna, the healing process has been halting, especially knowing there seems to be no solid system in place for the state to let you know how many and which health care providers have been accused of violating the very people who trusted them when they were at their weakest.

"I just don't want to see it happen again," says Brianna.
 

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