Washington Advocates for Patient Safety just helped get a law passed that will help protect patients from becoming victims of sexual abuse by their doctors.

I got to do something cool on Friday (April 19, 2019): watch a bill I helped propose get signed into law by Governor Inslee. It all started a couple years ago when I went with some other members of our local patient safety group (Washington Advocates for Patient Safety) to a national conference on patient safety. One of the presenters at that conference was a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who had been behind an amazing investigative series about doctors, across the country, who sexually abuse patients but are nonetheless allowed to keep practicing by their State medical boards. Then, earlier this year, California passed a law requiring that doctors under sanction for sexual misconduct have to tell their patients about the sanction.

We (WAPS) looked at our laws and realized that doctors in Washington could be disciplined for sexual misconduct, return to practice, have special conditions imposed on them by the State medical board related to their misconduct, but the other patients of the doctor would never be told. They wouldn’t know their doctor had been found to have committed sexual misconduct.

That seemed like a recipe for disaster, so some members of our group started meeting with our reps and senators. We wanted our state to pass the same new protection that California passed: doctors have to tell patients when they have been sanctioned for sexual misconduct. We got the most interest from my West Seattle representative, Eileen Cody, a democrat. She then took the idea and worked with a republican, Michelle Caldier from Port Orchard. The two of them wrote up a bill, and it sailed through both the state House and state Senate unanimously, largely due to work by the founders of our group, Rex Johnson and Yanling Yu. (Also, the timing didn’t hurt, with #metoo and Larry Nassar still fresh in everyone’s minds.) 

On Friday, we had the signing ceremony in Olympia. It was awesome. You go into this big fancy room, with the reps who sponsored the bill, and the governor sitting in front of the bill he’s going to sign, at the head of a big fancy table. You *very* briefly introduce yourself, he says about a 10 second speech about the bill, and then, he signs. And just like that, our idea became Washington state law. Then they take a few pictures and hand you an official governor signing pen as a souvenir.

Really felt good to see the system work like it should to protect patients from sexual abuse. If you happen to be from Rep. Cody or Rep. Caldier’s districts, don’t be shy about letting them know you’re glad they took on this work. Cody: (360)786-7978; Caldier: (360)786-7802. 

And if you have an idea for a law that should be passed, you should think about calling your rep and trying to arrange a time to talk, to explain why you think a change is necessary. Believe it or not, they are very receptive to that, particularly if you’re from their district. We ended up meeting with Rep. Cody at C&P Coffee in West Seattle. Got to eat a cookie, and didn’t even have to put on a suit. (Though I did put on a suit for the Governor.)