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Citrus hospital officials quiet on rape case

The people who run Citrus Memorial Hospital came to its defense Monday but once again stopped short of specifically addressing the allegations of patient rape and slow staff response that have rocked the small-town hospital for three weeks.

On Oct. 3, a witness found nurse Bruce Alan Young atop a 15-year-old female patient who was under anesthesia and recovering from abdominal surgery. Young's pants were down, and he appeared to be having intercourse with the girl, the witness said.

Since then, prosecutors have accused Young of sexually assaulting four more sedated women, and several other women have filed civil lawsuits making the same claims. In all, police have talked to 90 more women who fear they might be victims.

During a meeting and news conference Monday, top hospital officials defended Citrus Memorial's response and noted that a hospital attorney is reviewing the way the staff responds to crises and conducts background checks.

However, no one would specifically explain what hospital staffers did between 6:40 p.m. _ when Young was discovered _ and 9:40 p.m., when police were called.

Nor would they explain how Citrus Memorial investigated and resolved a similar complaint against Young that surfaced in August.

"Such is the advice of counsel, and only prudent," said David Langer, chairman of the Citrus Memorial Health Foundation's board of directors. "The board and hospital staff will not speculate on specifics of the incident itself, and the board and the hospital staff will not be part of any effort to sensationalize recent events."

The same message came from Charles Blasband, chief executive officer for the 171-bed, non-profit hospital in the Citrus County seat.

On a related front, two lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against the hospital Monday, a complaint that differs significantly from three other individual lawsuits filed by women who say Young raped them.

The class-action suit speaks for five women who can confirm that Young treated them at Citrus Memorial but cannot prove that he sexually assaulted them. If they meet a strict legal test for establishing a class-action claim, the lawyers hope to include all other women _ they estimate there are 300 or more _ who fit the same description and don't care to file their own individual lawsuit.

The suit said the hospital should establish a compensation fund for those women, providing money for counseling and medical tests that will determine whether Young infected them.

Young, 45, remained at the Citrus County Jail late Monday, where authorities held him in lieu of $100,000 bail. He is expected to plead innocent to all criminal charges during a court appearance next week.

In the investigation's early stages, police publicly questioned the hospital's response and level of cooperation. Langer said Citrus Memorial has and will continue to respond "responsibly and decisively" to protect "the safety and privacy of our patients."

"This is an outstanding hospital more accustomed to accolades than anguish," he said.

Blasband later said that the hospital carries liability insurance at "pretty standard" levels. He would not be specific, but did say the hospital is a fiscally viable institution that can withstand the expected onslaught of litigation.

"I think the hospital will survive this both reputation-wise and financial-wise," he said.

Blasband briefly described what happened Oct. 3 after nurse Carolyn Hart walked in on Young in the recovery room.

"The hospital staff involved were faced with an unbelievable act that was committed by another hospital employee," Blasband said. "They were stunned. They were shaken."

Blasband said hospital staff ensured the 15-year-old girl's safety, detained Young, called hospital management, talked to the girl's parents and then called police.

Blasband did not mention, nor would he comment on, confirmed reports that Hart left Young alone with the girl after making her discovery; that Young and another nurse took the girl to her room later that evening; or that the girl's parents, not head nurse Laura Dixon, suggested that the police be called. The executive said he was not defending or criticizing the staff's actions, just recounting them.

Blasband also acknowledged that an August incident in which a patient complained to her doctor about possible sexual abuse. Blasband said the hospital investigated and reported back to the doctor; neither the doctor nor the patient asked for any further response, he said.

The executive declined to explain how the investigation was conducted or by whom; he also chose not to say why the hospital didn't call police, no matter what the doctor and patient demanded.

Blasband said the hospital has not received any other complaints about Young. However, in a lawsuit pending against Citrus Memorial, an unidentified woman said she complained in 1991.

When asked about background checks of prospective employees, Blasband noted that Young did not list his stint with the Pinellas County school system. The hospital has been criticized for not checking public records that showed Young was fired after having sexual encounters with a student.

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