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Defamation case against Valley Health set for trial

A defamation case accusing Valley Health of improperly investigating a sexual misconduct allegation is moving forward to a jury trial.

According to court documents from the City of Winchester Circuit Court, Valley Health had sought to dismiss the case filed by Richard Catlett, a physician who has hospital privileges at Winchester Medical Center. Catlett, meanwhile, filed a complaint seeking a jury trial and $5 million in damages in the case.

A judge ruled on Thursday that a jury will hear the case in an eight-day trial starting on Oct. 22, 2018.

Last year, a patient accused Catlett of providing free services in exchange for sex and alleged that she and Catlett had been in a sexual relationship for five years. On March 11, 2016, Nicholas Restrepo, vice president of Medical Affairs at Winchester Medical Center, filed a report with the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which oversees medical licenses in the state.

But Catlett, in a complaint, stated that the hospital had not done enough to investigate the patient’s allegations prior to contacting the Department of Health Professions.

“(A) rudimentary investigation would have revealed that the alleged misconduct lacked any basis in fact whatsoever,” the complaint reads.

According to the complaint, the hospital’s investigation only consisted of testimony from the patient who was accusing Catlett of sexual misconduct.

“The Report” the hospital sent to the Department of Health Professions “does not mention the total lack of physical evidence of a sexual relationship,” the complaint states. “The Report does not mention the total lack of other corroborative evidence of a sexual relationship.”

But Carol Weare, a spokesperson for Valley Health, said in a statement that it was necessary for Restrepo to file a report with the Department of Health Professions.

“We believe that we had a legal duty to report the concerns that were brought to our attention by a patient so they could be investigated by the Department,” the statement reads. “We followed guidelines established by the Department and we intend to defend our actions as they were taken in the best interest of our patients.”

In a letter to the Department of Health Professions, Restrepo stated that a forensics nurse found the patient’s allegations “to be consistent and credible.”

The complaint also states that the hospital directed the patient to have a follow-up appointment with Catlett after she had accused him of sexual misconduct and failed to report the case — both of which, Catlett argues, suggest the hospital never took the case seriously.

“Adding insult to injury, and underscoring the degree to which the Report was simply a bureaucratic, wash-your-hands defense mechanism intended to dump the issue onto the Department (of Health Professions) and off Dr. Restrepo’s desk, it appears that Defendants did not really believe Patient Doe,” the complaint states.

The Department of Health Professions did not discipline Catlett, but it also didn’t close his file, according to the complaint. The complaint states that Catlett now has to mention that he was reported to the Board of Medicine, which is part of the Department of Health Professions, in future job applications.

But according to the complaint, Restrepo said that he would write a letter supporting Catlett if the Board of Medicine cleared him.

In a response to the complaint, Valley Health stated that Catlett has not appealed the decision by the Board of Medicine not to close his case. If Catlett wants his record not to include any information about the allegations, the hospital stated, he should have appealed to the Board of Medicine to close the case instead of suing the hospital.

Neither the Virginia Department of Health Professions nor the national Federation of State Medical Boards lists any disciplinary actions for Catlett. The Code of Virginia prevents the Virginia Department of Health Professions from disclosing investigations.

Catlett declined to comment for this article.

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