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Two patients sue Baldwin clinic, saying therapist abused them

Two St. Croix County women have filed a personal-injury civil lawsuit against Baldwin Area Medical Center, claiming a physical therapist sexually abused them during treatment for lower back pain.

The alleged incidents occurred in 2006 and 2010. The women say they reported the abuse to BAMC administrators and Baldwin police but no action was taken until two nurses came forward with similar complaints about the therapist, Luke Wayne Hayes, N7242 County Road N, Beldenville.

The patients, identified in the complaint by initials T.B. and H.A., claim Hayes slid his hand under their clothing, touching their groin areas. H.A. alleges that after inappropriately touching her during the first session, Hayes “escalated his conduct” during the next session, pulled her clothing aside and rubbed her intimately.

T.B. claims that near the end of her fourth therapy course, on Nov. 10, 2010, Hayes placed his right hand on her stomach and slid his hand under her clothing and touched her intimately.

The women say they both reported the incidents soon after they happened but were told by BAMC administrators that Hayes’s conduct was appropriate. In one case, says the complaint, the patient was told that the therapist’s actions were “proper, medically accepted practice for the treatment of low back pain.”

Hayes, who resigned from BAMC in 2010, is also named a defendant in the lawsuit as is MHA Insurance Company, Lansing, Mich., which provides liability coverage to the Medical Center.

“Ensuring our patients receive high quality, safe care is our top priority. We take these allegations very, very seriously,” wrote BAMC CEO Alison Page in an email response to a reporter’s request for comment.

“Mr. Hayes has not been employed by Baldwin Area Medical Center since 2010,” Page continued. “I won’t comment further on the allegations made against Mr. Hayes, as it is our policy not to discuss specific information related to personnel issues publicly.”

Attorney Gretchen Voorhees, Arden Hills, Minn., who filed the lawsuit, did not return a phone call.

According to the complaint, on Feb. 9, 2006 H.A. began physical therapy at BAMC and was assigned to Hayes. She said he touched her in her groin area that first session, but although she was suspicious, she “hoped and trusted” he was simply doing his job.

She said during the session a week later, when he went further, she pulled away to stop the contact and later reported the incident to a Baldwin police officer who notified the Medical Center and arranged a meeting.

H.A. claims administrators used that meeting to assure her that Hayes’ conduct was appropriate treatment for low back pain and to convince her to drop her claims, which she did. She said the Medical Center didn’t investigate and took no disciplinary or supervisory action against Hayes.

T.B. says she began therapy for low back pain with Hayes on Oct. 27, 2010 and near the end of her fourth session with him, on Nov. 10, 2010, he touched her genitals and breast and kissed her on the lips.

She reported the incident to Baldwin police that same day. An officer contacted the Medical Center’s director of physical therapy, who according to the officer’s notes, said the “technique (used by Hayes) can be used in the area in question.”

On Nov. 16, 2010, according to the complaint, T.B. told a nurse at BAMC about the incident. That nurse, according to the complaint, had had a similar experience with Hayes and learned that another nurse’s daughter had also described inappropriate touching.

According to the complaint, only when the two nurses reported their experiences of misconduct did the Medical Center take action, suspending Hayes with pay pending an investigation.

The complaint says that at the end of the investigation, the Medical Center gave Hayes three options: limit his practice to male patients or have a female therapist present while treating women; acknowledge his problem and enter a rehabilitation or retraining program; or resign voluntarily in exchange for receiving his salary until the end of 2010.

He submitted his resignation on Dec. 1, 2010, says the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges BAMC should have reported Hayes to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Department of Quality Assurance or the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

The two women say that if BAMC had acted earlier, T. B. and probably other patients wouldn’t have been abused.

The complaint says both women have “sustained serious, permanent and disabling injuries, including pain and suffering, as well as loss of enjoyment of life.”

The lawsuit alleges fraud, negligence, intentional misrepresentation and battery and asks for actual and punitive damages.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.