Multiple San Diego women have come forward with claims that they were sexually assaulted by Luis Ramos, a dental assistant, while they were under anesthesia. Ramos is currently being held without bail and faces multiple charges including felony sexual penetration of a person under an anesthetic.
On July 22, three women filed civil suits against Ramos, his former employer Park Boulevard Oral Surgery Center, and its owner Steve Podstreleny, claiming sexual battery and negligence. These suits follow accusations by a 17-year-old woman who came forward in February saying that she awoke to Ramos molesting her. Surveillance footage seized by the authorities allegedly shows Ramos assaulting the 17 year old and other female patients. The San Diego District Attorney's office say they have identified over a dozen victims. Two of the women who filed suit in July claim they contracted herpes as a result of their assaults.
The suits claim that the Center was aware of Ramos' history of being "sexually inappropriate" with female patients and suspended him in 2014 after they were informed by the San Diego Police Department of allegations against the dental assistant. The center allegedly installed security cameras after Ramos returned from his suspension, but failed to properly monitor them. The women also allege that the center did not comply with rules which require a third person to be present when a patient is unconscious due to anesthesia, and that they were not warned about the complaints against Ramos.
Sexual assaults by healthcare professionals on unconscious patients have made headlines before. An anonymous essay published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015 detailed two horrific incidences of assaults on women who were unconscious in the operating room. In both cases, witnesses reportedly did nothing to help the victims. In a letter accompanying the essay, the editors wrote, "By shining a light on this dark side of the profession, we emphasize to physicians young and old that this behavior is unacceptable—we should not only refrain from personally acting in such a manner but also call out our colleagues who do."
A detailed investigation conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found a number of factors that enabled sexual assaults by healthcare professionals, including physician-dominated medical boards and prosecutors who reduced charges so doctors could continue to practice. They report that the American Medical Association does not "favor the automatic revocation of the medical license of every doctor who commits sexual abuse of a patient. It does not expel every offender from its membership rolls. It has never independently researched the prevalence of sexual abuse in clinical settings." The investigation uncovered assaults in every state and in a wide variety of practices, including psychiatry, ophthamology, and pediatrics.
"There are very few laws in place to prevent these situations," attorney Max Kennerly, who has represented patients abused by healthcare providers, tells Broadly. "Most licensing boards do not require that doctors or dentists report allegations of abuse against their staff. Outside of a direct complaint from a patient, the boards rarely even open an investigation. Similarly, the boards are very hesitant to take any serious action against healthcare providers unless there has already been a criminal prosecution that resulted in a plea or a conviction. It's thus entirely up to the doctor or dentist to ensure that their patients are safe from predators."
The alleged victims in San Diego say that they would never have undergone surgery at the center had they known of the allegations against Ramos. The San Diego District Attorney's office confirmed to Broadly that Ramos is scheduled to appear in court in late August for sentencing, but could not comment on further details of the pending criminal case.