A former Yellow Springs doctor was arrested last Friday on charges of sexually assaulting his patients. Experts say there are common sense steps that hospitals and patients can take to prevent abuse, but many people still may not recognize it when it’s happening.
Donald Gronbeck pleaded not guilty to all charges against him at a hearing Thursday, according to Greene County court records, after being accused of sexually assaulting 15 women over a nine-year span. Gronbeck, 42, faces 50 combined counts of rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition, for crimes alleged either at his former Yellow Springs practice or at Antioch College, where he provided medical services.
Credit: Greene County Jail
Credit: Greene County Jail
If convicted as charged, Gronbeck faces more than 80 years in prison, of which 55 would be mandatory, Greene County Prosecutor David Hayes said Monday.
Experts say there could be multiple reasons for the long lag time between the start of Gronbeck’s alleged crimes and his arrest.
A 2019 report by the National Institutes of Health indicated that the true extent of sexual abuse of patients by physicians in the U.S. health care system is unknown, because incidents between physicians and their patients often go unreported.
Tom Ealey, a retired physician practice administrator and litigation analyst based out of Columbus, said assault perpetrated by a doctor can be a subtle form of sexual violence, one that may leave victims questioning whether an assault really happened.
“It is incredibly difficult, in any circumstance, to admit being sexually assaulted, and when you were sexually assaulted by an authority figure when you voluntarily went into his exam room,” Ealey said. “If you’re dragged into an alley and forcibly assaulted, it’s pretty clear what happened. If your doctor touched you inappropriately, when he was kind of supposed to be touching you, you think ‘Is it in my head?’ ‘Am I exaggerating?’ ”
Patients have certain rights when they enter a doctors office, officials at Kettering Health said. Physicians have a legal obligation to gain informed consent from their patients, explaining both what treatments are going to happen and why. Patients also have the right to a consultation, and the right to refuse treatment.
“The safety and well-being of our patients is of the highest importance to our organization,” Kettering Health officials said. “Our teams undergo annual training about safety protocols, and we regularly review all processes to ensure we are providing high-quality healthcare for those in our community.”
There are a number of ways that hospital networks can protect their patients as well, Ealey said. Having a chaperone policy in place, where another person, including a spouse, family member, nurse or medical assistant, is present for the examination is one. This not only protects the patient, but it protects the physician as well.
“If there’s any benefit to all these crazy scandals, it’s that organizations are getting more up to speed on safety procedures and office procedures,” he said. “As a practice administrator, as a physician or executive, you have got to insist on this.”
Though the majority of victims of physician abuse are women, this problem can affect anyone, Ealey said. Additionally, because doctors are often in a position of power, people tend not to question them, even in non-life-threatening circumstances. Physicians also tend to be loath to question or criticize each other, he added.
“In general, people should ask their physicians questions,” Ealey said. “People are very hesitant to question physicians, even if they need more information.”
Gronbeck had his medical license suspended earlier this year. State medical board documents earlier this year allege that Gronbeck had a sexual relationship with one of his female patients, and at least six other female patients reported instances of groping or sexual contact. Both patients and employees reported Gronbeck to the Greene County Sheriff, prompting the investigation, Detective Warren Hensley said Monday.
Those filings also accuse Gronbeck of writing a patient a prescription for Rivastigmine patches, commonly used to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, and then instructing her to hand out the patches to his employees. No drug-related criminal charges have yet been filed.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office urges anyone with information about other possible criminal activity involving Gronbeck or who believe they may have been victimized to contact Hensley at 937-562-4785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.