Johns Hopkins to pay $190 million in hidden camera scandal

Settlement covers 8,000 traumatized by doctor’s gynecological-exam images


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BALTIMORE — A “rogue” gy­ne­col­o­gist who used tiny cam­eras to se­cretly record vid­eos and pho­tos of his pa­tients has forced one of the world’s top med­i­cal cen­ters to pay $190 mil­lion to 8,000 women and girls.

Ni­kita Levy was fired af­ter 25 years with the Johns Hop­kins Health System in Bal­ti­more in Feb­ru­ary 2013 af­ter a fe­male co-worker spot­ted the pen-like cam­era he wore around his neck and alerted au­thor­i­ties.

Dr. Levy com­mit­ted sui­cide days later, as a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to roughly 1,200 vid­eos and 140 im­ages stored on com­put­ers in his home.

“All of these women were bru­tal­ized by this,” said their lead at­tor­ney, Jon­a­than Schochor. “Some of these women needed coun­sel­ing, they were sleep­less, they were dys­func­tional in the work­place, they were dys­func­tional at home, they were dys­func­tional with their mates. This breach of trust, this be­trayal — this is how they felt.”

The pre­lim­i­nary set­tle­ment ap­proved by a judge Mon­day is one of the larg­est on record in the United States in­volv­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct by a phy­si­cian. It all but closes a case that never pro­duced crim­i­nal charges but se­ri­ously threat­ened Johns Hop­kins’ rep­u­ta­tion.

Law­yers said thou­sands of women were trau­ma­tized, even though their faces were not vis­i­ble in the im­ages, and it could not be es­tab­lished with cer­tainty which pa­tients were recorded or how many. Mr. Schochor said it would be im­pos­sible and only cause more dis­tress to “sit around a ta­ble and try to iden­tify sex­ual or­gans with­out pic­tures of faces.”

Plain­tiffs at­tor­ney Howard Janet said 62 girls were among the vic­tims, and that Dr. Levy vi­o­lated hos­pi­tal pro­to­col by send­ing chap­er­ones out of the exam room.

Johns Hop­kins said in­sur­ance will cover the set­tle­ment, which “prop­erly bal­ances the con­cerns of thou­sands of plain­tiffs with ob­li­ga­tions the Health System has to pro­vide on­go­ing and su­pe­rior care to the com­mu­nity.” The hos­pi­tal state­ment said, “It is our hope that this set­tle­ment — and find­ings by law en­force­ment that im­ages were not shared — helps those af­fected achieve a mea­sure of clo­sure,” add­ing, “One in­di­vid­ual does not de­fine Johns Hop­kins.”

Myra James, 67, had been go­ing to Dr. Levy for an­nual ex­ams for 20 years. Since his mis­con­duct be­came pub­lic, she hasn’t been to a gy­ne­col­o­gist once. “I can’t bring my­self to go back,” Ms. James said. “You’re ly­ing there, ex­posed. It’s vi­o­lat­ing and it’s hor­ri­ble, and my trust is gone. Pe­riod.” The As­so­ci­ated Press nor­mally does not iden­tify pos­si­ble vic­tims of sex crimes, but Ms. James agreed to use of her name.

Dr. Levy, 54, grad­u­ated from the Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Col­lege in New York City and com­pleted his in­tern­ship and res­i­dency at the city’s Kings County Hos­pi­tal Center. He be­gan work­ing at Johns Hop­kins in 1988, and was work­ing at Hop­kins East Bal­ti­more Med­i­cal Center at the end.

He saw roughly 12,600 pa­tients dur­ing his years at Johns Hop­kins. About 8,000 joined the class-ac­tion suit, al­leg­ing that the hos­pi­tal should have known what he was up to. “There was no in­kling of it. Hop­kins was un­aware,” said hos­pi­tal at­tor­ney Don­ald DeVries, who said Dr. Levy went “rogue.”

Once alerted, hos­pi­tal au­thor­i­ties quickly no­ti­fied Bal­ti­more po­lice and es­corted Dr. Levy off cam­pus. Po­lice and fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they found no ev­i­dence that he shared the ma­terial with oth­ers. Mr. Schochor said all of the im­ages will be de­stroyed by court or­der.

Some women told of be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately touched and ver­bally abused by Dr. Levy, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Schochor. Some said they were reg­u­larly sum­moned to Dr. Levy’s of­fice for un­nec­es­sary pel­vic ex­ams.

“Did he take pic­tures of me? There’s no way of know­ing,” said an­other for­mer pa­tient, whose two chil­dren were de­liv­ered by Dr. Levy. “I felt vi­o­lated, be­cause I don’t know if for sure if he had pic­tures of me, or who has seen them.”

His sui­cide — by wrap­ping his head in a plas­tic bag with a hose con­nected to a he­lium tank — frus­trated ev­ery­one who wanted to know his mo­tives and see him face justice.

The set­tle­ment in­volves eight law firms and is sub­ject to fi­nal ap­proval by Judge Syl­ves­ter B. Cox af­ter a “fair­ness hear­ing” where the women can speak. Each plain­tiff was in­ter­viewed by a fo­ren­sic psy­chol­o­gist and a post-trau­matic stress spe­cial­ist to de­ter­mine how much trauma she suf­fered and how much money she will re­ceive.

Johns Hop­kins sent out let­ters to Dr. Levy’s en­tire pa­tient list last year, apol­o­giz­ing to the women and urg­ing them to seek care with other Johns Hop­kins spe­cial­ists. But hun­dreds were so trau­ma­tized that they “dropped out of the med­i­cal sys­tem,” and some even stopped send­ing their chil­dren to doc­tors, Mr. Schochor said.

Ms. James said her deal­ings with Dr. Levy were al­ways un­set­tling. She said she found it strange that he con­ducted ex­ami­na­tions with­out a nurse pres­ent. “He was cold, and I was kind of scared of him. His bed­side man­ner — he didn’t have any,” she said. “But all my doc­tors were at Hop­kins. I’ve had two sur­ger­ies there, my pri­mary doc­tor is there. I was used to go­ing there for ev­ery­thing.”

United States - North America - Maryland - Baltimore


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