Two Utah medical centers never reported a nurse who was repeatedly accused of sexual assault, lawsuit says
Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune
A woman has brought suit against the hospital where emergency room nurse Adam Lim for an alleged sexual assault in 2015. Here, she poses for a portrait in her lawyer's office, Thursday, July 27, 2017.
When Adam Tae Kyun Lim was fired from his nursing job in 2011 after several female patients reported that he sexually assaulted them, St. Mark’s Hospital officials were required by law to report him to state licensing authorities.
And before that, when a rehabilitation center disciplined him for similar conduct, officials there were supposed to alert Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL).
Now, a Utah woman who was the 11th patient to report to medical workers that Lim had sexually assaulted her is expanding her lawsuit and suing the two medical facilities, saying they failed to protect her by not reporting past sexual abuse complaints to authorities. She also alleges the facilities gave the nurse favorable employment references.
The woman, A.L., already sued Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) after she reported that Lim touched her inappropriately as he checked a heart monitor when she was hospitalized there on New Year’s Eve 2015.
She settled that portion of the lawsuit for an unspecified amount in November, according to court records. The suit was then amended to include the claims against St. Mark’s and Holladay Healthcare Center.
Her attorney, Lena Daggs, declined to comment on the settlement with IMC because of a confidentiality agreement.
IMC spokesman Jess Gomez said he could not comment on the lawsuit or settlement, other than to say the hospital had “fully cooperated with law enforcement officials” and that it has a “strict zero tolerance policy for any caregiver who violates the trust that our patients have in us.”
Twelve women, several facilities
In total, state officials have identified at least a dozen women who have reported Lim violated them in the past decade as he worked in health care facilities across Salt Lake County.
Public records show at least four facilities — St. Mark’s, Jordan Valley Medical Center’s West Valley campus, IMC in Murray, and a rehabilitation center not identified in public documents — received at least one complaint of inappropriate touching in the past decade. St. Mark’s and IMC each had at least four.
Lim is currently facing criminal charges in connection to four complaints, including A.L.’s.
The woman said in a July interview that she was “very, very upset” when she learned there were other patients before her who similarly had accused Lim of sexual abuse.
“They should have done something the first time,” she said.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, though A.L. has agreed to be identified by her initials.
Lim had been warned multiple times about inappropriate conduct while employed at St. Mark’s Hospital, A.L.’s lawsuit alleges, before he was fired in 2011 after a fourth woman reported abuse to hospital authorities.
He had been given a “final warning” by St. Mark’s in January 2009, according to preliminary hearing testimony, after a patient reported that he touched her genitals when she was hospitalized after a surgery.
Utah law requires medical facilities to report to DOPL 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.”
But A.L.’s attorneys assert no one at St. Mark’s ever reported Lim to DOPL after he was fired, and no one informed IMC about his termination and instead gave “positive employment references.”
In response to emailed questions in August, St. Mark’s vice president of human resources, Kelly Brimhall, said that in general, hospital officials “promptly notify DOPL and other appropriate agencies” about employee misconduct. She also said the hospital generally provides several pieces of information to future employers — including whether the employee would be eligible for rehire.
When asked whether St. Mark’s had specifically reported Lim to DOPL, St. Mark’s spokeswoman Danielle Wilcox confirmed it had turned his case over to the agency.
Public records indicate that’s not true.
DOPL officials, in response to a request by The Tribune, said they had no records showing St. Mark’s had reported the nurse during his tenure at the facility.
Asked about the discrepancy, Wilcox wrote in an August email: “The information we have already provided is all that we will be able to provide.”
In an email this week, Brimhall said the hospital is “deeply troubled by Mr. Lim’s alleged criminal actions” and that it has “worked closely” with police and DOPL during their investigations. She added that St. Mark’s reviews “all patient complaints and takes any that are related to inappropriate physical contact very seriously.”
“We are confident that our response [to patient reports about Lim] was comprehensive and appropriate based on the evidence and information that was available at the time,” Brimhall wrote.
A.L. alleges that Holladay Healthcare, who employed Lim from 2009 to May 2016, was also aware that patients had complained of Lim’s conduct and had warned him about inappropriate touching. Details of those allegations are not known.
But that facility, too, never reported Lim to DOPL, according to a Tribune public records check with the state agency. And Holladay Healthcare similarly did not disclose “the true facts” of his employment history to future employers, according to A.L.’s amended lawsuit.
Due to the pending litigation, Holladay Healthcare Administrator Brent Williams said he could not comment on the specifics of Lim’s tenure.
“However, we want to be clear that Holladay is committed to ensuring that those employed by it have the credentials, experience and skills appropriate to their position, and have not engaged in conduct which would in any way conflict with their ability to participate in the delivery of health care,” Williams wrote in an email.
Several states include penalties in their reporting laws, giving authorities the option to hand down fines as high as $100,000 or other punitive measures if a facility does not report employee misconduct. Utah’s law makes no reference to any penalties, and DOPL officials say they know of no enforcement remedy for failure to report.
And while DOPL officials collect data on number of reports made in a year, they do not keep track of complaint sources or how many reports come from medical facilities.
Hospital officials with IMC did end up reporting Lim to DOPL — but only after receiving multiple complaints about him. DOPL investigator Dean Healey testified in a January preliminary hearing that hospital officials believed that, in A.L.’s case, they had “explained it away,” but once another woman complained about a groping incident weeks later, they fired Lim and referred both cases to the state licensing division.
Lim’s nursing license was suspended in September 2016, after DOPL officials ruled he was “an imminent and significant danger to the public.” It was the first time any action had been taken against his license.
The Utah attorney general’s office filed criminal charges against Lim
in August 2016, slapping him with two counts of first-degree felony object rape and two counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse. He was arrested at that time, but has been free from the Salt Lake County jail after posting $100,000 bond.
Lim has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorney, Clayton Simms, has said his client is “completely innocent.”
No trial date has been set. Third District Judge Ann Boyden recently ruled that while the four women whose reports led to criminal charges can testify in front of the same jury, those alleged victims who were not included in the charges cannot.
The judge said that while the charged incidents are “stunningly similar,” there weren’t as many close similarities in the uncharged cases. Allowing all of the women to testify at a trial would raise “very serious fairness issues,” she ruled.
With the criminal case pending, A.L. decided to file a civil lawsuit because she “wanted to get the word out” about how she was treated at the hospital. The thought of going to a hospital now causes her fear, she said in July, and she still has nightmares about the alleged abuse.
“I just want justice to be served,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to go through this.”