12 women accused a nurse of groping them. But for a decade, Utah hospitals kept hiring him.
One alleged victim has sued the hospital where she says she was abused.
Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune
A.L. has brought a lawsuit against Intermountain Medical Center, alleging it did not do enough to protect her from an emergency room nurse who allegedly sexually assaulted her. Here, she poses for a portrait in her lawyer's office, Thursday, July 27, 2017.
When she was hospitalized on New Year’s Eve 2015, A.L. felt uncomfortable about the way her nurse treated her.
He said he was fixing a heart monitor, but his hands lingered on her chest, in places no health care provider had touched her before when doing similar checks.
He gave her Champagne, she said, and dosed her with pain medication through an IV without asking if she needed any.
When that nurse — whom police identified as 53-year-old Adam Tae Kyun Lim — left the room, A.L. cried, praying he wouldn’t come back.
She was too frightened to report the inappropriate touching right away, the 43-year-old woman said in a recent interview, but she eventually told the hospital when an employee conducting surveys for Intermountain Medical Center called and asked about her stay at the Murray facility.
It wasn’t until later she would learn she wasn’t the first patient to report that Lim had groped her.
“I was very, very upset when I found out there were more,” the woman said. “And he got away with it? They should have done something the first time.”
By the time criminal charges were filed against Lim last August, 12 women had come forward during the past decade, all of them complaining that they had been violated. Public records show Lim had been employed by several Salt Lake County hospitals and facilities since finishing nursing school at Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2005. At least four facilities — St. Mark’s Hospital, Jordan Valley Medical Center’s West Valley campus, Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) in Murray and a rehabilitation center not identified in public documents — received at least one complaint of inappropriate touching, according to public records. St. Mark’s and IMC each had at least four.
State policies should have protected patients from a nurse accused of misconduct, though it’s unclear whether any of those safeguards were followed as allegations against Lim continued to build through the years.
A.L. recently filed a lawsuit against IMC, alleging it should have done a more thorough background check before hiring Lim in 2012 and a better internal investigation after patients began complaining.
“They should have protected me,” the woman said.
‘They made me feel like I was crazy’
Prosecutors say in court papers that the earliest evidence they have is a December 2006 allegation that Lim groped a patient at St. Mark’s Hospital. That woman told Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing that Lim also laid on top of her with his pants down and tried to kiss her, according to a public emergency order.
From there, fondling complaints trickled in, one or two a year, no matter where he worked.
Three years after the first documented complaint, another woman — then the sixth alleged victim to report — told authorities Lim had touched her genitals when she was hospitalized at St. Mark’s after a surgery.
“They made me feel like I was crazy,” the woman testified at a January preliminary hearing. “They basically just said that he was one of the best nurses they had and he would never do anything like that.”
Even so, she left the meeting with hospital staff feeling like she had accomplished her goal: to ensure management was aware in case something similar happened in the future.
For this incident, Lim was given a “final warning,” according to court testimony. Hospital staff told Lim, who worked a night shift, to identify himself to patients, turn on the lights and communicate what he was doing when he entered their rooms.
It’s unclear, however, whether the hospital ever raised the accusations with law enforcement. Neither Unified Police nor the Salt Lake City Police Department had any investigative documents about Lim, officials reported.
West Valley City police also did not have any records involving Lim — though there was a 2007 groping allegation at Pioneer Valley Hospital, which is now called the West Valley Campus of Jordan Valley Medical Center. A hospital spokesman confirmed Lim worked there but said she could not comment further about the allegation or Lim’s tenure.
At some point, Murray police investigated three cases involving Lim, though officials declined to release police records and have refused to disclose basic details, such as incident dates. A records appeal is pending.
Prosecutors with the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office declined to file charges against Lim in 2015. Blake Nakamura, chief deputy Salt Lake County attorney, could not provide any information about the number of complaints or what evidence they considered when making their decision.
After Lim was fired from his job at IMC for allegedly groping A.L. and another woman within a two-week period, an investigator with the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Utah attorney general’s office began looking into the accusations. Last August, prosecutors there filed charges against Lim in connection with four reports, including A.L.’s. Lim faces two counts of first-degree felony object rape and two counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse.
Lim was arrested last August and released from the Salt Lake County jail after posting $100,000 bond.
A month after charges were filed, DOPL suspended Lim’s nursing license, ruling he was “an imminent and significant danger to the public.” It was the first time any action had been taken against his license.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, though A.L. has agreed to the use of her initials.
Defense attorney Clayton Simms said Lim is “completely innocent.” He said the allegations of inappropriate touching are a misunderstanding because English is his client’s second language, and “it’s different” when a male nurse is treating and touching patients. He also noted that all of the patients were on medication that could cause memory loss or delusions when they say they were abused.
“We underestimate the chances of being falsely accused,” Simms said in a recent interview.
Simms said he believes the case was filed by the attorney general’s office a year after it was declined by Salt Lake County prosecutors due to a “change in attitude.”
“Marginal cases, cases that really aren’t supported by evidence, juries are more likely to convict now,” he said. “Things are moving in a direction where real hard questions aren’t asked of alleged victims in these cases.”
The attorney general’s office also declined to release records because of the pending prosecution. A trial date has not been set. Lawyers are expected to argue next month about whether prosecutors can present testimony from alleged victims not included in the charges in an effort to show that it is unlikely the women, who do not know one another, would have been confused about what happened or falsely reported accusations.
‘Cause for immediate termination’
If a medical facility wants to avoid liability, Utah law requires it to report to DOPL within 60 days when an employee is terminated for “unprofessional, unlawful, incompetent, or negligent conduct.” Facilities must also report if they find an employee violated professional standards, was incompetent, engaged in abuse of alcohol or drugs or conducted “acts of moral turpitude.”
Some other states include penalties in their reporting laws, giving authorities the option to hand down fines or other punitive measures if a facility does not report employee misconduct. But Utah law makes no reference to any penalties for a facility that doesn’t pass on the information, and DOPL officials say they know of no enforcement remedy for failure to report.
Jennifer Bolton, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Commerce, said if DOPL doesn’t learn of allegations directly from the health care facility, it may still get the information from law enforcement, other health care workers or through the patients who were harmed.
IMC spokesman Jess Gomez said “we fully comply with” DOPL reporting obligations and referred The Tribune back to DOPL for specifics on those obligations.
Gomez said in an emailed statement he was limited in in his ability to comment about Lim because of A.L.’s lawsuit.
“Any allegation of inappropriate physical contact by a medical professional is fully investigated and appropriate action taken,” he said, adding the hospital conducts “thorough background checks” on all prospective employees before they are hired. This includes criminal history and professional licensing searches along with a review of the sex offender registry, he said.
St. Mark’s vice president of human resources, Kelly Brimhall, reported a similar process for investigating misconduct, saying that “confirmation of inappropriate contact is cause for immediate termination.”
She said Lim underwent a full background check upon being hired in 2005. He was terminated in 2011.
A St. Mark’s spokeswoman said the hospital reported information about Lim to DOPL. But Bolton said she could not immediately confirm if that was the case, or if any action was taken by DOPL at the time. A records request for the information is pending.
For A.L., her alleged encounter with Lim has had lasting effects. She has nightmares about it, she said, and doesn’t feel safe in medical facilities.
“I’m still bothered by it. I try to avoid hospitals to the fullest extent, even if I’m really hurt. And I’m just ... I’m very scared.”
A.L.’s attorney, Lena Daggs, asserts in the lawsuit that not only did the hospital fail to conduct its own internal investigation when women before A.L. complained of groping, but it also hired a lawyer to defend Lim as Murray police investigated the allegations.
The lawsuit further alleges that after Lim was fired from St. Mark’s, he was hired at the Murray hospital without a proper background check and workers did not contact anyone from his previous employer.
“[Hospital officials] knew or should have known that Lim was a dangerous predator when they hired him,” the lawsuit alleges.
A.L. said that after she complained about Lim, hospital staffers sent her a letter stating they were looking into the matter. She never heard from them again.
A month after her hospital stay, A.L. said investigators with the attorney general’s office showed up at her door and began asking her what had happened.
It was after that meeting with investigators, A.L. said, when she began thinking about bringing a civil lawsuit against the hospital. She is seeking an unspecified amount of general and punitive damages.
“It was killing me inside,” she said. “I just thought, ‘I can’t keep this quiet.’ I have to go forward, I’ve got to get the word out.”