Police say others may have been attacked while being prepared for surgery.
The Sacramento Bee
A 30-year-old hospital worker charged with felony sexual battery charges against two male patients had intimate access to many patients as a care assistant in the recovery room of Mercy General Hospital.
The hospital worker, Devery Wilkerson, 30, has been charged with felony sexual battery on two patients who had surgeries in August, according to police.
Wilkerson has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 17. His appointed public defender could not be reached for comment.
On Friday, Sacramento police detectives were interviewing another possible victim.
Because of Wilkerson’s job description – shaving patients in preparation for surgery – authorities believe there could be other patients with similar allegations.
“There’s a good chance that there are more out there because we’re talking about someone who’s been an employee for two years,” said Sgt. Justin Risley. “It’s important they come forward.”
The hospital’s representatives contacted police after a 48-year-old patient complained that he had fallen asleep and was awakened to find the care assistant sexually assaulting him, Risley said.
The investigation led to a 61-year-old patient who said he caught the care assistant fondling him while he was being shaved before an angioplasty. On a second visit a few days later, the 61-year-old reported a repeat of the same behavior and ordered the assistant to stop, Risley said.
Mercy spokeswoman Jill Dryer said Friday that Wilkerson had been employed as a care assistant, not a licensed position, at the hospital since Dec. 28, 2001.
“We continue to cooperate with local law enforcement, and we take these allegations very seriously,” Dryer said. “Obviously, we’re looking at this internally very closely.”
Professional employees at the hospital confirmed Wilkerson was primarily responsible for shaving the whole body for heart surgeries or the groin area for catheter insertions.
Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Rose said Wilkerson also is charged with another felony, involving caretakers of adults who violate their trust.
“These people have ultimately intimate contact with these patients,” Rose said.
The typical suspect charged under that law cares for disabled adults unable to fend for themselves, he said. The vulnerability of hospital patients who are unclothed and possibly under heavy sedation would also make them dependent and temporarily disabled, Rose said.
If convicted, Wilkerson could serve up to 14 years in prison on the combined charges.
Measuring the incidents of sexual abuse suffered by patients is difficult, said Jamie Court, executive director at Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Los Angeles.
“People don’t always report it or they don’t know they’re victimized. It’s far more common with doctors than hospital workers, and it doesn’t occur in hospitals as much as in examination rooms,” said Court, author of the book, “Making a Killing: HMOs and the Threat to Your Health.”
“Clearly, there are not good enough procedures on the books to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Court and other health-care advocates point to a rise in managed-care in the mid-1990s that also signaled a decrease in the number of licensed professionals on hospital staffs.
“They (hospitals) try to replace them with cheaper, less skilled workers,” said Court, who has detailed in his book incidents of unskilled workers doing patient care.
To fill the void, housekeepers and dietary workers were cross-trained for patient care, said Lisabeth Jacobs, spokeswoman for the Oakland-based California Nurses Association.
“You might have someone cleaning the toilets with gloves and then they prop up the patient’s pillow,” said Jacobs, a registered nurse.
She said people with responsibilities such as Wilkerson’s are under the supervision of a registered nurse, but if the nurse’s duties encompass too many patients, supervision suffers.
A new law could bring some relief, she said.
In an effort to improve health care, nurse-to-patient ratios will become mandatory beginning in January under state law, which is the first of its kind in the country.
The Bee’s M.S. Enkoji can be reached at (916) 321-1106 or [email protected]