New Details in Lawsuit Accusing Free Clinic, Doctor of Sexual Battery
All five plaintiffs went to Volunteers in Medicine in El Cajon because they did not have health insurance and sought care for a variety of problems from infertility to a referral for therapy
New allegations against a San Diego-area doctor facing sexual assault and battery charges surfaced in a lawsuit filed by five women who were clients of the only free health care clinic in the East County.
According to a lawsuit filed Nov. 13, patients to the clinic Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) in El Cajon had to see Dr. Jeffrey J. Abrams before being referred to other doctors or specialists.
One of the plaintiffs in the case said that she initially went to the clinic to get a referral to a psychologist and a therapy group. Another woman requested a fertility specialist to help her conceive. A third woman said she went to VIM for a rash on her hand.
All say they were instructed by Abrams to remove their clothes so they could receive a vaginal exam. In some cases, the women were given rectal exams.
Abrams, 67, posted $1.5 million bail after pleading not guilty to 15 felony counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious victim, eight counts of sexual battery of an unconscious victim and one count of possession of child pornography.
Through the suit, the plaintiffs — identified as Jane Does 1-5 — allege that the health clinic was negligent in allowing Abrams "unfettered and unsupervised access to all female patients.”
“VIM knew or should have known that Defendant Abrams was sexually harassing, battering and assaulting female patients and it was not safe to be in an exam room alone with him,” the documents allege.
The clinic's CEO Maureen Hartin told NBC 7 she was not present when the alleged incidents took place, but she said the staff has followed professional medical standards of care since they opened in 2006.
Hartin said female patients are given gowns and drapes while undergoing gynecological exams, though the patients listed in the lawsuit were not treated by Abrams in a gynecological capacity.
Also, she said that in the primary care clinics, an RN and LVN are available to the medical provider when doing a physical exam of female patients.
If an RN has already left the room and a physician decides to do a physical exam, he or she would ask the RN to return before proceeding.
Two of the plaintiffs — women we'll refer to as Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4 — sought treatment at the clinic in 2010.
When she went to VIM for medication refills, a rash and a vaginal tear, Jane Doe 4 said Abrams would watch her dress and undress before and after exams over the course of the year. At one point, she said Abrams told her she needed to clean her clitoris and then cleaned it for her.
She recalls no other VIM employee in the room during her exams with Abrams.
Jane Doe 3 was seen by Dr. Abrams for a rash on her hand. She said the doctor told her that given her family history of Lupus, he would need to check her entire body for rashes as well as perform a breast and pelvic exam to check her lymph nodes.
He took approximately 24 photos of her over the course of four years, the documents allege. Jane Doe 3 also claims Abrams called her from his personal cellphone, asking when she would be coming back into the clinic.
In 2011, a woman we'll refer to as Jane Doe 5 went to VIM for a referral to a psychologist. She was scheduled for a physical exam with Dr. Abrams first, the suit alleges.
In court documents, Jane Doe 5 said her boyfriend was in the exam room with her when Abrams showed him how to stimulate her to climax.
In her final visit with Abrams, approximately 2013, Jane Doe 5 claims a medical assistant was in the room as Abrams took images of her naked butt. She also claims Abrams called her home number from his personal phone.
In 2011, Jane Doe 2 went to VIM for help with infertility. Even though she says she requested a female gynecologist, she said her request was denied and she was scheduled to see Dr. Abrams.
According to court documents, Abrams told Jane Doe 2 he needed to take images of her pubic hair to monitor her hormone levels.
On her last visit in May 2012, she claims Abrams stood in front of her with his legs straddling hers while she was on the exam table.
The plaintiff alleges that while Abrams was doing a breast exam, she “felt his hard penis against her leg.”
Approximately 36 images were taken of her while she was seen at VIM, according to court documents.
The most recent incident involved a woman we'll refer to as Jane Doe 1. On Jan. 4, 2014, Jane Doe 1 went VIM for treatment of what was believed to be a hernia. Since she spoke limited English, she brought her minor son to help her translate.
During the exam, Abrams asked her son to leave, court documents allege.
The lawsuit claims Abrams inserted his finger into Jane Doe 1's vagina twice — once while she was laying on her back and again while she laying on her stomach.
When he sat in front of her naked body and began to take pictures, the patient asked “Radiographa doctor” to which Abrams allegedly replied “I need one pintura for me,” the lawsuit claims.
It was in this incident that Jane Doe 1 said her son translated her questions, asking VIM staff why Dr. Abrams took naked images of his mother.
According to the claim, Abrams showed one image to a nurse of Jane Doe 1's stomach and explained it was for before and after comparison.
Abrams' medical license has been temporarily suspended by the State Medical Board, and he has been ordered to surrender his passport.
If convicted, he could face 40 years in prison. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5.
VIM's CEO said the need for the free clinic is great in the East County, so they have not seen a decrease in patients since the allegations against Abrams surfaced. The county estimates that there are over 90,000 uninsured residents in East County and the clinic cares for more than 3,000 per year, Hartin said.
Anytime a female patient asks the medical provider for a chaperon, VIM honors that request, according to Hartin.