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Physician sexual abuse showed up again in headlines recently, the most visible evidence of an ongoing current of tragedy in the US healthcare system.

Ricardo Cruciani was by all accounts a skillful pain physician—a doctor who specialized in alleviating the pain of patients through careful prescription of appropriate medication.  Patients of Dr. Cruciani were vulnerable and fragile.  Afflicted with chronic pain, patients rely on physicians to help them relieve their pain while maintaining or helping them restore their health.  As early as 2005, Mr. Cruciani used his profession to force a patient to perform oral sex and at other times groped her. He pursued other patients the same way, increasing medication until a patient was dependent upon him for refills after which he committed sexual abuse.

The Federation of State Medical Boards identifies physician sexual misconduct as “behavior that exploits the physician-patient relationship in a sexual way.”  While headlines around Drs. Larry Nassar, George Tyndall, Dennis Kelly, and Robert Anderson are explosive, the vast majority of physician sexual misconduct goes unreported.  Patients who are ashamed and fearful are reticent to report what happened during a medical exam. 

In other cases, patients who report the abusive behavior of their physician are ignored.  In the case of Mr. Cruciani, the physician took positions at hospitals in three states, each one relying on the previous hospital for a background check that came out clear, despite the presence of complaints of sexual abuse against the then-physician.

According to The New York Times, Mr. Cruciani was eventually charged with sexual assault in Philadelphia where he was the chairman of the Neurology Department at Drexel University.  He was convicted in 2017 of seven counts of sexual misconduct and sentenced to seven years’ probation. He was also required to register as a sex offender and forfeit his medical license as part of a plea agreement.

In July of this year, Mr. Cruciani, free on $1 million bail, was found guilty in New York by a jury on 12 counts of sexual abuse, rape, and predatory sexual assault, among other crimes.  Sent to Rikers Island following his conviction, additional civil suits were filed to hold him and the facilities that employed him liable for the damages suffered by his patients.

Two weeks after his conviction, Mr. Cruciani, age 68, committed suicide in Rikers Island jail. The end of the line for Mr. Cruciani, as his victims continue to try and recover from the physical and emotional damage wrought by a physician they sought for help.

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