Jyllene Wilson is somewhat paranoid about visiting public restrooms and clinics, and uses a smartphone app to detect prying eyes. For Joshulyn Brown, her distrust in white-collar professionals, especially doctors and lawyers, is evident. Simmons-Gomez has it worse than the other women, for she gets panic attacks when being examined by a male doctor, and one of her daughters slipped into depression and began cutting herself.
Like these women, there are thousands too – mostly the poor and black – who have fallen for the gynaecologist’s warm demeanour that put them at ease.
Dr Nikita Levy, 54, was fired in 2013 after a co-worker alerted authorities about a pen-like camera he wore and police subsequently found a trove of 1,200 videos and 140 images on his computers.
Levy, who joined Johns Hopkins in 1988, had seen at least 12,600 patients in his long tenure. A few days after his dismissal, he killed himself by slipping a bag of helium over his head, leaving an apology note for his wife.
“He reminded me of Dr Huxtable from ‘The Cosby Show’, ” Simmons-Gomez said.
Over time, she started confiding in him and he tutored her by phone and during appointments when she was struggling with her biochemistry course. Simmons-Gomez’s two teenage daughters also went to him for check-ups, a decision she lives to regret.
“That guilt of putting your innocent daughters in the hands of a monster, it just makes me sick,” Simmons-Gomez said.
She recalls Levy using a penlight during his examinations on her, and he would turn on Eric Clapton’s “Layla” after the examinations and do a silly dance. In hindsight, she believes the dodgy doctor was celebrating after he filmed images of her body.
When she heard news of his arrest, Simmons-Gomez cried and began vomiting.
“They will never be able to fathom what we’ve all been through,” Simmons-Gomez said.
“Sleepless nights, missing work, your body at work but your brain elsewhere... we lived through hell, and some of us are still going through hell.”
Breach on a ‘sacred’ trust: Patients and the health system
Described as the largest from a single perpetrator in US history, the women will share a mammoth settlement of USD 190 million where each gets between USD 1,877 and USD 27,935 depending on the severity of their trauma. More than half had 'moderate trauma' and will get USD 21,500 each.
Bessie Smith, 29, said Levy had delivered her stillborn son in 2009 and the knowledge of his deeds intensified her distress.
She said she no longer trusts doctors and will 'die on the streets before I go back to Johns Hopkins'.
The case is enormous as none of the women could be identified in the photos — so everyone treated by Levy could file for compensation. This has amounted to 15,200 applications of which some were duplicates and another 1,000 women who were never Levy’s patients.
Jonathan Schochor, an attorney who represents the women, declined comment.
Kim Hoppe, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, “That a physician would do such a thing is unimaginable. When we were informed of Dr Levy’s actions, we acted quickly and decisively."
“We have strong policies in place to protect patient privacy, but all hospitals must rely to some extent on the integrity of their caregivers. Dr Levy breached a trust not only to his patients, but to Johns Hopkins Health System as well.”
Compensation for psychological trauma a challenge
The women suffered no physical injury and it makes it more challenging to compensate for psychological trauma such as the loss of dignity and trust, besides the shame and humiliation.
Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who has been tasked with negotiating settlements for victims in mass tragedies, said, “You don’t have traumatic physical injury. That means that all of the harm is psychological. Well, who proves that? How do you demonstrate a degree of harm to justify eligibility? That’s a very difficult thing to do, to calibrate the degree of psychological damage.”
Maryland Court of Appeal senior judge Irma Raker, who is the claims adjudicator and tasked to determine the worth for a lifetime of suffering, felt many factors driving the settlement amounts were subjective, and the injury that they considered was the patient’s perception, belief or knowledge that they were photographed.
“When we go to a gynaecologist or an obstetrician, it’s so private and it’s so intimate, and it’s not a very comfortable experience. And then to learn that your doctor was taking photographs of some people and he could be taking photographs of you — you don’t know whether he did it or not — it evokes different kinds of emotions in different people,” she added.
“We cared, and we listened, and we took into account each person’s experience.” MIMS
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