Dr. Paul Harnetty, an Ob/Gyn who practiced in Georgia from 2003 until 2012, was convicted last month by a Wyoming jury of sexually assaulting two of his female patients. Harnetty began practicing medicine in Wyoming in 2012. It did not take long before a number of his Wyoming patients accused him of sexual assault and abuse. In February of 2016, a disciplinary complaint was filed against Dr. Harnetty by the governing medical board in Wyoming. In January of 2017, Dr. Harnetty was arrested and charged with twelve counts of sexual assault, resulting in the recent conviction on two of those charges. Dr. Harnetty awaits sentencing.
Sadly, there was a long trail of allegations against Harnetty while he was practicing Ob/Gyn medicine in Georgia. Harnetty was investigated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Nurses who had worked with the doctor reported to the Board that the doctor had committed highly unusual acts on patients while they were delivering babies. The Medical Board never disciplined Harnetty publically and the Board’s investigation was kept confidential. Dr. Harnetty gave up his hospital privileges at a Georgia hospital in 2010, but the hospital refused to say why. As a result, Harnetty was able to leave the State of Georgia with a clear record and obtain a license to practice medicine in Wyoming. The District Attorney in Wyoming who prosecuted Dr. Harnetty stated, “There had been red flags on this guy forever.”
Regrettably, the system in place that shields and protects doctors who are charged with sexual abuse of patients is broken. The Georgia Board responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors refuses to comment on what it knew about Dr. Harnetty or whether he was ever disciplined by the Board. Georgia law allows the Board to discipline doctors in private. This is the so-called “code of silence.” For example, the Georgia Board’s investigator had interviewed a labor and delivery nurse, who reported that she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment by Dr. Harnetty with the hospital in 2007. The nurse reported that while in a patient’s room, Dr. Harnetty walked up beside her and grabbed the nurse’s bottom. Other nurses also told the Board’s investigator about Harnetty touching them inappropriately, making lewd comments, and sexually harassing them. If the Georgia Board did anything about these allegations, it was never made public. Had the Georgia Board decided to discipline Dr. Harnetty publicly, the alleged sexual abuse that occurred in Wyoming may have been prevented.