March 5, 2024

Nearly four months after a former Columbia University gynecologist was sentenced to 20 years in prison for abusing patients, the university on Monday apologized to victims and announced a “multipronged” response plan.

The former doctor, Robert A. Hadden, was convicted in federal court earlier this year of inducing four patients to cross state lines for examinations during which he sexually assaulted them.

For years, victims and their supporters have called on the university to notify Mr. Hadden’s former patients about the charges against him. Since his conviction, Columbia medical students, staff, lawmakers and Mr. Hadden’s victims have increased pressure on the university to admit fault for enabling Mr. Hadden’s decades-long abuse of his patients.

Now, in addition to an apology, the university will work with a third-party investigator to “thoroughly examine the circumstances and failures” that allowed Mr. Hadden’s abuse and notify nearly 6,500 former patients about his conviction and sentencing — a point victims and advocates have strongly pushed for. The university said it would notify patients within 72 hours of the announcement. It will also establish a $100 million settlement fund that will be open for one year starting in January, according to a news release.

“We owe it to the courageous survivors and the entire Columbia community to fully reckon with Hadden’s abuses,” said Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia University, and Dr. Katrina Armstrong, chief executive officer of the medical center, in the release.

“Columbia failed these survivors, and for that we are deeply sorry,” they added. “This announcement aims to ensure we are on a path that repairs harm and prevents further trauma — moving us forward and rebuilding the trust of our entire community.”

The university also announced that it had developed a series of new patient safety policies and programs, including the creation of a center focused on quality care and patient safety.

Mr. Hadden was first arrested while he was still working at Columbia University and its affiliated hospitals. He pleaded guilty in state court to a single felony count of a criminal sexual act in the third degree and a misdemeanor count of forcible touching, but was spared prison time as part of a plea deal.

According to prosecutors and witnesses, reports of Mr. Hadden’s abuse go as far back as two decades, to his early years of working at the university’s hospital. During that time, he honed methods of seeing patients alone during examinations to assault them, prosecutors said. Warnings and reports of his inappropriate behavior and assaults were not acted on by hospital administration, the authorities said.

Even after Mr. Hadden was charged, hospital leaders avoided telling patients why Mr. Hadden was no longer employed. At several points, they thwarted efforts to investigate the former doctor by failing to hand over evidence and by not cooperating with prosecutors, according to recent reporting by ProPublica.

Now, the university is facing a slew of lawsuits from Mr. Hadden’s former patients under the Adult Survivors Act. The law enables victims who were 18 or older at the time of the alleged abuse a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits in New York, even if statutes of limitations have run out. The legislation, which followed the passage of the Child Victims Act, has allowed people to file the civil lawsuits during a one-year window that opened in late November last year.

Two survivors of Mr. Hadden’s abuse, Marissa Hoechstetter and Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, said in a joint statement they were pleased that the university was taking responsibility, but “remain committed to ensuring they follow through on these promises.”

They called for Columbia to increase the amount of the fund and clarify how it would reach victims before the expiration of the Adult Survivors Act next week on Nov. 23.

In recent years, the university reached at least two separate settlements with more than 200 of Mr. Hadden’s former patients for a total of about $236 million, but admitted no fault.

Last month, a group of New York State legislators sent a letter to Ms. Shafik asking that the university inform former patients about Mr. Hadden and launch an independent investigation into how he was able to abuse patients during his time at the hospitals.

The announcement from the university “sends a strong signal that institutions must be held accountable when they fail New Yorkers and we’re not going to let them get away with it,” said Grace Lee, an assemblywoman who represents Lower Manhattan and led the push to send a letter to Columbia.

Anthony T. DiPietro, a lawyer who represents many of the victims, said that he does not support the university’s plan because it allows the university and its lawyers “to retain all of the power to decide the value of each person’s claim.”

In October, Mr. DiPietro filed a suit against Columbia University Medical Center under the Adult Survivors Act with more than 300 victims of Mr. Hadden.

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