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Report: Ohio Medical Board Failed To Act On Evidence Of Abuse By Richard Strauss

Gov. Mike DeWine unveils the findings of a working group investigating the State Medical Board's investigation of Richard Strauss.
Nick Evans
Gov. Mike DeWine unveils the findings of a working group investigating the State Medical Board's investigation of Richard Strauss.

The Ohio Medical Board had credible evidence of sexual misconduct by longtime Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss in 1996 but didn't inform law enforcement, a review by a state working group found.

Gov. Mike DeWine established the working group in May specifically to review State Medical Board records from a 1996 investigation into Strauss, which ultimately resulted in no discipline for the doctor. He announced the group's findings at a press conference Friday.

According to the review, investigators determined Strauss had been "performing inappropriate genital exams on male students for years." Despite that conclusion, no attempts were made to revoke Strauss' medical license or notify police.

The Medical Board's attorney, who is now deceased, gave no explanation at the time for why action against Strauss never materialized.

"One former employee interviewed by our working group described a 'black hole' at the medical board then, saying this case basically fell into oblivion," DeWine said.
Tom Stickrath, director of Ohio's Department of Public Safety and chair of the working group, noted Strauss himself unwittingly prompted the medical board investigation.

"Dr. Strauss had filed a complaint wiht the medical board about another physician," Stickrath said. "Yeah, there's irony—great irony to this," DeWine cut in.

"And so that case was opened," Stickrath continued, "and during the investigation of that case, the investigator for the medical board was alerted to some of these other issues about Dr. Strauss."

DeWine is calling on the Medical Board to conduct a review of all sexual assault allegations against physicians and other licensed medical personnel that were investigated and closed without action over the last 25 years. That review would encompass roughly 1,500 cases.

"We can't risk that other sexual assault cases that were mishandled," DeWine said in a tweetFriday.

The governor is also asking the board to identify any medical license holders in Ohio who knew or suspected misconduct by Strauss, but who failed to report it.

Strauss worked as a team doctor and a physician in Ohio State’s Student Health Services during his nearly 20-year tenure at the school. An independent investigation of Strauss’ conduct released earlier this year found at least 177 people faced abuse as early as 1979.

Attorneys for the accusers, who have filed several class-action lawsuits against the university, contend they’ve found more than 300 victims.

In the wake of that report, DeWine signed an executive order to establish the working group. His order called for members to investigate whether the Medical Board “thoroughly and appropriately investigated and responded to allegations of sexual abuse.” DeWine also urged state lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape.

Although investigators working on the Strauss report were able to see records from the Medical Board’s disciplinary procedures, they weren’t able to make their findings public. When the Strauss report was released in May, the portions referencing the board were blacked out.

DeWine’s working group brought together state and local law enforcement officials, medical experts and victims’ advocates, and was chaired by Tom Stickrath, director of Ohio’s Department of Public Safety. As a governmental agency, the working group was allowed to review documents state law otherwise requires remain confidential.

Ohio State investigated Strauss in 1996 after several students reported sexual misconduct at the health center. As a result, Strauss was removed from the Athletics Department and health center, but remained a tenured faculty member until his voluntary retirement. The State Medical Board investigated Strauss that same year, but never disciplined the doctor.

The working group offered a series of other recommendations, as well:

  • The Medical Board should develop plans for working more closely with law enforcement when such complaints are made.
  • The board should establish a quality assurance program to review whether investigations are being opened appropriately as well as the results of those actions.
  • Current confidentiality provisions should be subject to a time limit, and in certain cases, the board president or members should be able to make information public.
  • The board should work with victim advocates when investigating cases of sexual misconduct.
  • Other boards including the state nursing, dental, psychology and pharmacy boards should take similar action.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a member of the working group, said he reviewed the Medical Board material for any potential cover-ups. His office has so far filed no criminal indictments in the Strauss case.
Strauss killed himself in 2005.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.