The longtime medical director of a popular fertility clinic is accused of inappropriately touching and sexually molesting female patients, some while they were under anesthesia, in incidents that date back at least a decade, according to records of a state investigation obtained by the Globe.
A patient first complained about Dr. Roger Ian Hardy in 2004, and over the years employees of the Reading-based fertility clinic said they witnessed at least three other incidents, the records show. Some staff “reported Dr. Hardy’s misconduct’’ to other physicians at the clinic.
Yet, until this year, Hardy continued to practice at the Fertility Centers of New England, which lists nine offices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine on its website.
Hardy, a reproductive endocrinologist who treated patients at the clinic for 20 years, resigned his medical license on Jan. 21 amid an investigation sparked by new allegations made to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine, which licenses physicians.
Hardy’s attorneys did not return several calls seeking comment, and no one answered the phone at his home. Hardy, however, told a board investigator before his resignation that he had done nothing wrong and that complaints to the board might be the work of a competitor, according to the records.
But it was a patient who wrote a letter to board in 2004. “I was afraid . . . that something criminal had been done to me,’’ she wrote. The woman described trauma to her genitals that she said occurred while sedated for a procedure that Hardy performed in December 2003 at the Hunt Center in Danvers, then part of Beverly Hospital.
Hardy wrote a lengthy denial at the time, and pointed out that three “professional assistants’’ were in the operating room during the procedure. The medical board closed the case without taking action against Hardy.
The Department of Public Health, which licenses the fertility clinic, confirmed Wednesday that it has “an ongoing investigation’’ separate from the board’s inquiry, but would not disclose details.
The redacted records of the medical board investigation were obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
It is not clear why Hardy’s alleged behavior was apparently allowed to continue for so many years. A letter sent by board investigators to Hardy’s attorney, Martin Foster of Cambridge, listed 18 witnesses, including nurses, surgical technicians, colleagues, and other fertility physicians, who provided information to the board.
One fertility physician who worked at the clinic told board investigators that nurses were afraid of losing their jobs. A nurse and a technician who reported one incident to a superior were told not to talk about it, according to an investigator’s affidavit. Board records show, however, that one nurse told investigators she filed an anonymous report with the board.
Then, last October, one physician filed a formal complaint with the medical board.
That doctor, also a reproductive specialist, contacted the board because a longtime patient confided in her that Hardy, 55, had touched the patient sexually and rubbed her genitals under the guise of examining her surgical incision. The patient, who was in her 40s, saw Hardy unchaperoned several times in his Reading office in 2011. During the visits, he told her that his extensive sexual touching was part of her fertility treatment, according to the board’s “statement of allegations’’ against Hardy.
The doctor who brought that complaint to light — her name was omitted from the records provided to the Globe for privacy reasons — told the board she was horrified. She had known Hardy years ago and told board investigators the situation was “really awkward and difficult but she knew that she had to tell someone.”
The patient later came forward to the board.
When the board opened the inquiry last year, investigators reviewed the 2004 complaint again in light of new information from fertility center employees. Investigators changed their conclusion, determining that Hardy had behaved inappropriately with the patient, by trying to stimulate her genitals while she was sedated.
Staff at the fertility center saw Hardy inappropriately touch other women who were under anesthesia, using a medical instrument that sprays water, the board alleged. They also saw Hardy “touch the breast of a patient who had just undergone an egg retrieval procedure, and was still under the effects of anesthesia.’’ The allegations do not provide dates for these incidents. The board also alleged that Hardy touched the breast of a female employee.
Barbara A. Piselli, the board’s acting executive director, said doctors sometimes resign during an inquiry. According to board documents, investigators planned to recommend at a Jan. 22 meeting that Hardy’s license be “summarily suspended’’ because he was “an immediate and serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the public.’’
Hardy resigned on the eve of that meeting.
According to the records obtained by the Globe, the patient who complained in 2004 sent copies of her letter to various people, including Dr. Vito Cardone, founder of the clinic, and Dr. Joseph A. Hill, who has owned the business since 2003.
Cardone said in an interview that he did not recall the patient complaint in 2004. Hill did not return phone calls to the Fertility Centers from the Globe on Wednesday.
But according to board documents, the clinic’s owner told investigators in January that his human resources department had received no formal complaints against Hardy, except for the one from 2004. He called Hardy “his leading producer’’ and said he was afraid “this was a witch hunt trying to put him out of business.’’
After the board declined to discipline Hardy in 2004, the woman who filed the complaint wrote a second letter in protest, saying the board had not done its job completing a thorough investigation of Hardy. Piselli said she could not determine from board files what was done in response to the second letter.
Cardone said he started Fertility Centers of New England in 1993 as one clinic in Reading and another in Dedham. At one time, Tufts Medical Center sent patients there for fertility services. He said he sold the business to Hill in 2003, but worked there until 2006. He has since founded another practice, Cardone Reproductive Medicine and Infertility in Stoneham.
Cardone said that no patient complained to him and that no staff member ever told him directly about witnessing inappropriate conduct by Hardy with patients.
“I never got an official report from anyone,’’ he said. “There was a feeling in the place that something was going on.’’ But Cardone said that when he asked Hardy about his interactions with patients, “he said nothing was happening. ‘I take patients’ hands before they go to sleep, that is the way I am.’ ”
Cardone said that one employee did complain to him that Hardy behaved inappropriately toward her, but that when he confronted Hardy, he denied it. Cardone said the woman asked him not to report it to the medical board, so he did not.
Hardy has an illustrious background, according to his LinkedIn profile. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1988 and trained at The Christ Hospital in that city and at Stanford University Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He began working at the Fertility Centers of New England in 1994 and has also done procedures at Beverly and Winchester hospitals.
Hardy was also licensed in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, and California. Maine and New Hampshire authorities have suspended his license.
Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.