In the late 1990s, a nurse at the Fertility Centers of New England was waking a patient from anesthesia when, she said, she noticed Dr. Roger Ian Hardy’s fingers on the woman’s breast. Shocked, she froze for several seconds before pushing her way between Hardy and the patient, she told a state investigator.
After Hardy left the recovery room, a technician who says she also witnessed the incident began to cry.
The nurse said she reported the events to her superiors but was warned by one “not to cause a stink or blow the whistle,” she told the investigator for the state medical board. “Otherwise she would be labeled a disgruntled worker.’’
This incident is outlined in an affidavit from an investigator for the Board of Registration in Medicine, detailing the board’s investigation of Hardy, the longtime medical director of the chain of fertility clinics.
The 22-page document, based on interviews with 18 witnesses, describes allegations of sexual misconduct against Hardy that go back to his college days, and says that staff at the Reading fertility clinic assert they saw the doctor touch patients inappropriately as early as 1998.
The Globe reported Thursday that Hardy resigned his medical license Jan. 21 amid allegations that he inappropriately touched and sexually molested female patients, some while they were under anesthesia. Hardy told board investigators he never engaged in any misconduct with patients or staff.
The affidavit, obtained by the Globe through a public records request, tells a different story. In some cases, according to the affidavit, nurses said they did not tell anyone about what they witnessed. One nurse said Hardy touched her inappropriately at an after-work party, but she kept it to herself. In other instances, such as when Hardy allegedly rubbed the nipple of the patient in the recovery room around 1998, employees said reports to superiors went nowhere.
The immediate supervisor of the nurse who witnessed that episode claimed she reported it to someone else at the clinic. “He said Dr. Hardy was a good doctor; that was the end of the conversation,’’ the supervisor said.
“They felt they were working under a code of silence,’’ a psychologist who spoke to nurses who had worked at the center told the investigator.
The affidavit was heavily redacted by the medical board to protect the privacy of patients and others allegedly mistreated by Hardy. It makes clear that many patients were very happy with the care provided by Hardy, an Ivy League graduate who helped parents have children and who nurses said “had a wonderful bedside manner.’’
But the inquiry unearthed allegations there was another side to Hardy. Board investigators interviewed a woman who attended Princeton University with him in the late 1970s and said he climbed into her bed one night and made sexual advances toward her, despite her protests. The woman said that another student filed a complaint against him with the university.
Martin Mbugua, a spokesman for the school, confirmed that Hardy graduated from Princeton in 1981 but said he could not discuss student records because of privacy laws.
Hardy, 55, who was interviewed by board investigators before he resigned, said no women ever complained about him at Princeton. His attorney, Martin Foster of Cambridge, did not respond to several attempts by the Globe to contact him on Thursday.
Fertility Centers of New England has nine clinics in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Dr. Joseph Hill, who bought the centers in 2003, has cooperated with medical board investigation and a separate inquiry by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said his attorney, Nicholas J. DiMauro of Burlington.
After Hill purchased the practice, no one was discouraged from reporting misconduct, DiMauro said Thursday. He said he could not comment further because of the health department’s investigation.
Dr. Vito Cardone, who started the business in 1993, said he heard rumors that Hardy rubbed a patient’s breast in the recovery room. He told board investigators that he approached the nurse who reportedly saw the incident, but she did not want to discuss it. Cardone said he asked Hardy about it, and “he said he was trying to comfort the patient.’’
In an interview Thursday, Cardone said he strongly disagreed that nurses were working under a “code of silence.’’
“If people had told me, I would have taken the appropriate measures,’’ he said. “How could we do anything if no one wants to step up. I am sickened and flabbergasted about everything that has happened.’’
Health care workers, including doctors and nurses, are required to report abuse and mistreatment of patients to the Public Health Department and, in the case of a doctor, to the Board of Registration in Medicine. Failure to do so can result in fines or discipline.
The Globe reported Thursday that a patient first complained to the medical board about Hardy in 2004. The woman described trauma to her genitals she said occurred while sedated for a procedure Hardy performed in December 2003 at the Hunt Center in Danvers, then part of Beverly Hospital. Hardy wrote a lengthy denial at the time, saying there were chaperones in the operating room, and the board declined to discipline him.
Then, last October, a physician filed a formal complaint with the medical board. That doctor, a reproductive specialist like Hardy, contacted the board because a longtime patient confided in her that Hardy had touched the patient sexually and rubbed her genitals under the guise of examining her surgical incision. The new complaint led to an in-depth investigation.
Barbara A. Piselli, the board’s acting executive director, said Thursday she could not comment on whether the board referred the case to police and prosecutors. “If we become aware of a possible criminal violation we would refer it to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,’’ she said.
Spokeswomen for the Middlesex and Essex district attorneys, who investigate and prosecute crimes in Reading and Danvers, said no criminal charges have been filed against Hardy. “I can’t confirm whether or not an investigation is ongoing at this point,’’ said Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett.
Some of Hardy’s former patients said they were anxious that they might have been victims without knowing it. One patient, who did not want to be identified, said she underwent fertility treatments with Hardy over the past year, and as far as she knows, all her care was appropriate. “I want the board to tell me that my name is not on the victims list,’’ she said. “I think they owe that to people.’’
Because Hardy surrendered his license, the board’s investigation is closed. If the board gets complaints now, Piselli said staff would “tell patients that we have no jurisdiction over this matter. We would take the information and get permission to provide it to the correct law enforcement officials,’’ she said.
Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.