(LOS ANGELES) — A gynecologist at the University of Southern California was allowed to continue seeing student patients for years after the school first received complaints of him repeatedly making “sexually inappropriate” and “racially discriminatory” comments to young women while examining them, officials said.
Dr. George Tyndall, 71, who had worked at the private Los Angeles university for 30 years, was fired in June 2017 after an investigation purportedly found evidence supporting the “deeply troubling” allegations about the physician’s behavior, USC President Max Nikias wrote in a letter to parents on Tuesday.
“On behalf of the university, I sincerely apologize to any student who may have visited the student health center and did not receive the respectful care each individual deserves,” Nikias, president of USC since 2010, wrote in his letter.
While it remains unclear how many students were affected by Tyndall’s alleged behavior, Nikias said 2,500 student patients were surveyed but “did not identify any related complaints” about the doctor.
Nikias said a review of university files during a 2016 investigation showed numerous complaints against Tyndall dating back to 2000. He acknowledged that the university investigated Tyndall in 2013 after complaints were made against him but “did not find conclusive evidence of a policy violation.”
The most recent investigation of Tyndall conducted in 2016 uncovered eight additional complaints dating back to 2000, which were “independently” investigated by the former director of the health center apparently unbeknownst to the university’s administration.
“Several of the complaints were concerning enough that it is not clear today why the former health center director permitted Tyndall to remain in his position,” reads a summary of the 2016 investigation by the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
During the 2013 investigation, numerous witnesses, including nurses and medical assistants, were interviewed and said they either “loved” Tyndall or described him as “creepy,” according to a summary of the investigation by the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
The 2016 investigation, according to the summary, concluded that Tyndall “had violated the university’s policy on harassment by making repeated racially discriminatory and sexually inappropriate remarks during patient encounters.”
The physician was fired in June 2017.
“We expect much of the people entrusted with the well-being of our students,” Nikias wrote. “While we have no evidence of criminal conduct, we have no doubt that Dr. Tyndall’s behavior was completely unacceptable. It was a clear violation of our principles of community, and a shameful betrayal of our values.”
He said the allegations against Tyndall weren’t made to the California Medical Board until earlier this year after Tyndall asked the university to be reinstated.
“In hindsight, we should have made this report eight months earlier when he separated from the university,” Nikias wrote, adding that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department were recently notified.
Officer Lizeth Lomeli, a spokeswoman for the LAPD, told ABC News, “We have no open investigations of anyone at USC at the moment.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office told ABC News in a statement: “Our office was contacted and we directed the university to contact LAPD.”
An investigative report published Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times indicated that complaints against Tyndall date back even further than initially thought — all the way to the 1990s. The newspaper reported that Tyndall’s co-workers alleged he inappropriately photographed students’ genitals and that in recent years he seemed to target Chinese students with limited understanding of English and medical procedures in the United States.
Laura LaCorte, the university’s compliance chief, told the Times in an interview that her review of the photos found no federal or state privacy violations. LaCorte told the paper that the images were “purely clinical” and “there was nothing sexual about them.”
The university consulted outside medical consultants who called his examination methods “outdated” and also consulted with two criminal attorneys about whether Tyndall’s pelvic exams constituted a crime, the Times reports, but both lawyers determined there was no criminal activity to report, school officials said.
Efforts by ABC News to reach Tyndall for comment were unsuccessful. He denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. He told the paper that he performed exams that were extremely thorough, but always appropriate.
“I’m there to protect the health of Trojan women,” Tyndall said, referring to the USC mascot.
Tyndall was suspended by the university in June 2016 after a staff member in the student health center complained of “sexually inappropriate comments made to patients in front of medical assistants” by the physician, according to a summary of the investigation by the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
“During the investigation, outside medical reviewers concluded that the manner in which Dr. Tyndall performed physical exams did not meet current practice standards and that he made inappropriate remarks to patients, in some cases during the examination process,” Nikias said in his letter. “Some of these comments were racially discriminatory and sexually inappropriate in nature. These comments and his behavior were completely unacceptable and in violation of our values.”
The 2016 investigation by the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity, medical assistants who worked with Tyndall expressed concerns with how he conducted pelvic examinations.
“Specifically, these medical assistants questioned Dr. Tyndall’s practice of a digital insertion prior to insertion of a speculum,” according to the investigation summary.
The investigation also uncovered files kept by Dr. Larry Neinstein, former director of the university health center, that contained eight complaints logged against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014.
“These included racially insensitive and other inappropriate comments, concerns that he was not adequately sensitive to patients privacy, a complaint of feeling ‘uncomfortable,’ another that Tyndall ‘gave me the skeevies,’ and another that he was ‘unprofessional,'” the summary of the investigation reads.
A review of Neinstein’s notes indicates that while he took steps to address the complaints at the time, he did so “independently,” according to the investigation summary.
“As the parent of two daughters who were undergraduates and graduate students at USC, I understand how vital it is for the university to do everything it can to care for the students who put their trust in us,” Nikias wrote in his letter. “And, as president, I am wholly committed to providing a safe and respectful environment for everyone on our campuses.”
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