Lawsuit: Doctor left Yakima hospital after raping two patients, but should have been fired after the first
YAKIMA, Wash. — Virginia Mason Memorial hospital is being sued over claims it failed to properly investigate and discipline a former doctor when he was accused of sexually assaulting a patient in 2017 — a choice the plaintiff’s lawyer said put the doctor in a position to do it again to his client.
Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas, 35, has been accused of performing multiple intrusive pelvic exams on both women with no medical reason: the exams were unwanted, often ungloved and always done with no chaperone present. He’s been charged with two counts each of second-degree rape and indecent liberties, but remains at large.
Lawyer Bryan Smith — representing the second victim, the plaintiff — said the hospital was put on notice after the first woman reported being sexually assaulted by Roman-Cabezas in 2017, but failed to take the necessary steps to protect their patients.
Smith said the hospital didn’t adequately investigate the complaint, call police, remove the doctor’s privileges or supervise him during patient exams.
“The hospital did none of these things,” Smith said. “As a result, Dr. Roman-Cabezas was allowed access to my client in the most vulnerable setting, where he sexually assaulted her.”
When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Virginia Mason Memorial hospital provided KAPP-KVEW with the following statement: “Virginia Mason Memorial cannot comment on a case in litigation. Our goal is always to provide the highest quality of patient care.”
Smith said the hope is that the lawsuit will effect changes at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital and other medical facilities nationwide that will help to better protect patients from sexual assaults by their providers.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to punish anybody with this lawsuit. We’re trying to make positive changes for patient safety.”
KAPP-KVEW reviewed the lawsuit, as well as more than 140 pages of documents obtained through a public records request to the Yakima Police Department, including internal police reports, hospital investigation reports and transcripts of witness interviews.
*Note: The victims are referred to by their initials instead of their names to protect their identities.
The Case of L.C. — 2017
According to hospital investigation documents, Roman-Cabezas was hired July 31, 2017, as a hospitalist specializing in internal medicine.
The first allegation came just a little over four months later — shortly before Christmas — from a woman identified in the lawsuit as L.C.; she went to the emergency room at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 and was admitted for treatment of a suspected urinary tract infection, with possible kidney stones.
L.C. received treatment over several days before Roman-Cabezas came into her room the following Tuesday to examine her. Despite her symptoms not warranting it and not having a chaperone present, he gave an intrusive pelvic exam, according to police reports.
Roman-Cabezas reportedly did another two pelvic exams the following day, on Wednesday, with no gloves or chaperone to be seen; on Thursday, she received another three such exams — this time, the doctor was wearing plain clothes with no lab coat on, police reports said.
According to police reports, Roman-Cabezas completed a total of seven medically unnecessary pelvic exams in a three-day period, with L.C. reporting that each was distinguishably inappropriate in comparison to previous pelvic exams she had received from other doctors.
“She initially didn’t question the examinations. She told me that all doctors have different ways of doing things,” a detective said in a police report. “She told me that it was on Friday, when Dr. Roman appeared to be coming in on his day off that she began to sense something was wrong.”
When Roman-Cabezas showed up at her door that Friday, just after 5 p.m., she was on the phone and felt surprised he was there on his day off; he reportedly asked her how she was doing and she told him she was working with a different doctor now, according to police reports.
Roman-Cabezas left and reportedly told her he would be back “in a few,” but did not return. Police said nowhere in her medical records did it mention any of the seven pelvic exams.
“What she described to the hospital staff was a sexual assault,” Smith said. “Now, [L.C.] is not my client, but [she] is the person who put the hospital on notice of a very concerning pattern of behavior by Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas.”
Concerned about what had happened, L.C. asked her assigned nurse if the nature and frequency of the pelvic exams was normal, to which the nurse replied that they were not. Later, police reports show the nurse said L.C. was crying, upset and scared as she described the incidents.
“[The nurse] described the patient as being concerned about the doctor finding out,” a detective said in a police report.
The nurse reportedly told L.C. she would contact her supervisor and that they would be calling the police. The following morning, Saturday, Dec. 23, L.C. asked the nurse if they had called police and was subsequently told “she may have misunderstood” and that “she should call the police if she wanted to do something.”
“She noticed the hospital was trying to discharge her without contacting authorities so she called 911 to file a report,” a detective said in a police report.
Other medical providers told police with her conditions, there would be no reason for a doctor to be performing a pelvic exam and that examinations conducted without a chaperone or the use of personal protective equipment would be a “gross deviation from standard procedures,” police reports said.
The Internal Investigation of L.C.’s Reported Sexual Assault — 2017
Once the nurse was notified of the alleged sexual assault, hospital investigation notes show the information made its way through half a dozen employees before reaching the former human resources director, Amber Henderson, on Christmas Eve.
Henderson and other hospital officials told police they decided to wait until after Christmas to notify Roman-Cabezas of the allegations against him, adding that he was on a scheduled vacation.
On Dec. 26, hospital officials called Roman-Cabezas, who denied examining anything other than the patient’s chest and abdomen.
Through questioning, detectives determined the hospital did not interview the victim during their internal investigation, relying on the information the nurse had passed on to them.
“Henderson again confirmed that nobody associated with the investigation met with [the victim] to get more specific details of what took place,” a detective said in a police report.
Three days later, Roman-Cabezas came back from his Christmas vacation and returned to work like normal, according to hospital investigation notes.
“Our allegation in the lawsuit is that Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas should never have been given the opportunity to see patients after this initial report in December of 2017,” Smith said. “They should have taken more extreme action and at the very least, should have required chaperones in all patient interactions.”
Police later interviewed Dr. Marty Brueggemann, chief medical officer at the hospital, who told detectives that after the internal investigation was done, “they were unable to draw a firm conclusion” of what happened.
“[Brueggemann] told me that his recollection was that there were reliability concerns regarding the patient and no concerns about Dr. Roman,” the detective said in a police report. “[Brueggemann] told me that ‘the team’ of people involved in the investigation was unable to determine what happened and it was ‘he said, she said’ and nobody could ‘corroborate anything’.”
Brueggeman reportedly told the detective that the decision-making team opted to provide L.C. with counseling.
“They investigated, but they took no action against him,” Smith said.
In a Jan. 9, 2018 letter to Roman-Cabezas at the conclusion of the internal investigation, Brueggemann said:
“After a thorough review, we have not been able to substantiate any deviation from best practices. Furthermore, I was quite impressed by the processes you outlined in your meeting with Dr. Catton and myself about how you approach sensitive examinations in all of your patients. I think your practices of always having a chaperone present during sensitive exams and explaining the examination as you perform it in all patients constitute the best practice and I applaud your commitment to this.”
According to police reports, a detective asked Brueggemann if he had confirmed whether Roman-Cabezas actually followed those processes. Brueggemann reportedly told police the letter was based on the doctor’s claim that he did and there was no further investigation.
“[Brueggemann] told me that he recalled talking with nurses (although nurses are not assigned to doctors) and there was no report of concerning behavior,” a detective said in a police report. “[Brueggemann] told me that Dr. Roman was well received and it was a ‘tough one’ for the hospital.”
In police reports, detectives said the criminal investigation was stalled shortly after L.C. was interviewed by police and officers were unable to contact Alberto Roman-Cabezas during the initial investigation.
“The case became inactive due to a lack of physical evidence and corroborating witnesses,” a detective said in a police report. “I had lost contact with [the victim]. The phone numbers that she had provided were no longer working.”
The Case of A.P. — 2018
About two weeks after Roman-Cabezas received a letter notifying him that the investigation was closed, he reportedly sexually assaulted another patient at the hospital, a woman identified as A.P. — the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“You have almost a mirror image of the same behavior by Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas,” Smith said.
A.P. was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 14, 2018, for nausea, vomiting and other symptoms; during her hospital stay, on Jan. 25, 2018, Roman-Cabezas “performed a medically unnecessary pelvic exam,” according to the lawsuit.
“She was sick and she needed help … she was trusting that she was going to be taken care of and that everybody that came into her room was there with the sole intent to provide medical care and help her,” Smith said.
A.P. was admitted to the hospital again Aug. 1, 2018 for fever and drainage from a feeding tube; again, Roman-Cabezas reportedly gave her a pelvic exam Aug. 16, 2018 without reason, the lawsuit said.
“She reported that during each of her visits with him, he conducted a pelvic exam [and] that no other doctor she had seen had performed such an exam,” a detective said in a police report. “She described feeling uncomfortable each time she visited with Dr. Roman.”
The third and final time the doctor reportedly sexually assaulted A.P. was Oct. 8, 2018, the day after she was admitted to the hospital for nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. He came into her room and gave her yet another inappropriate and unnecessary pelvic exam, court documents said.
“When she realized what he had done, and as he was leaving the room, she noticed that he was not wearing gloves; she was shocked and horrified,” the lawsuit said. “As he was leaving the room, Dr. Roman-Cabezas told A.P, ‘You are one of my favorite patients.'”
When her assigned nurse came in shortly after, A.P. told her what happened and the nurse went to tell the hospital administrator. According to the lawsuit, A.P. went into the bathroom in her hospital room and when she came out, Roman-Cabezas was there.
“He told her that he heard she ‘had a problem’ with the examination,” the lawsuit said. “[She was] frightened and in disbelief that the nurse to whom she reported the sexual assault would ask the perpetrator to come back into her hospital room, unchaperoned.”
During the initial investigation, one hospital official wrote:
“When she came out of the bathroom, Dr. Roman was standing there by himself with the door to the hallway closed. He shared with her that the RN had spoken to him, and he wanted to apologize, and that he should have used gloves and should have had someone in the room with him when he examined her. She stated that she was scared to death that he was there without anyone.”
A.P. reportedly told the doctor she was fine, wanting to get him out of the room. Police reports showed the nurse had told a supervisor, who had contacted Roman-Cabezas about the allegation and said he was “taken aback.”
Roman-Cabezas reportedly told the supervisor he had done a suprapubic exam — externally, near the pubic bone — to which the supervisor replied, “he should know what [A.P.’s] perception of the exam was,” according to hospital investigation documents.
Those documents also show the supervisor reportedly did not speak with the patient and later told A.P.’s assigned nurse, “this was a misunderstanding on the part of the patient.”
A short time later, police reports show the nurse encountered Roman-Cabezas in the hallway and he pulled her aside.
“[She] described Dr. Roman having a look of tremendous worry or panic,” a detective said in a police report. “Dr. Roman told her that nothing happened.”
The Internal Investigation of A.P.’s Reported Sexual Assault — 2018
During the second internal investigation, Roman-Cabezas was already scheduled to be off for six days, which hospital officials told police allowed them to investigate him without having to suspend him.
When hospital officials interviewed Roman-Cabezas, he denied doing anything inappropriate.
“[Brueggemann] told me that Dr. Roman was very ‘reasonable’ and ‘clearly scared’ when he was advised of the allegations,” a detective said in a police report.
According to police reports, Roman-Cabezas was ultimately taken “off-service” and he didn’t work during the investigative process. While the hospital never made a formal finding during their internal investigation, they decided to let him go, according to police reports.
“The hospital believed that the ‘risk was too high’ to allow Dr. Roman to maintain employment with the hospital,” a detective said in a police report.
Detectives asked hospital officials if anyone had spoken with A.P. for the investigation to hear her story directly, but no one could say definitively if she was contacted again or not.
Roman-Cabezas was notified of the hospital’s decision to terminate his employment, obtained an attorney and preemptively sent them a letter of resignation Nov. 29, 2018, before the hospital could officially fire him.
The Criminal Investigation
When detectives reached out to interview Roman-Cabezas for the second time, he told them “he needed to contact his attorney prior to making any statement to law enforcement,” police reports said. A lawyer later called police to tell them the doctor would not be making a statement.
“It is unknown how many patients he has seen or treated while employed in the hospital,” a detective said in a police report. “Other complaints of a similar nature may have been referred to Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital, which were not subsequently reported to law enforcement.”
In police reports, one detective described having a difficult time getting in touch with hospital employees for interviews.
“I called the hospital and spoke with a nursing supervisor … and asked her to relay my requests for an interview … [The supervisor] told me that she didn’t want to say ‘too much’ but that the nurses at the hospital were under direction to only speak with the police after they spoke to the hospital lawyers. [She] told me that there were several nurses who had knowledge of the allegations against Roman-Cabezas (including herself) and the nurses didn’t want to get into trouble with their employer (the hospital) by speaking with me. [She] told me that she had spoken with hospital representatives from risk management and that unless it was coordinated with the hospital’s legal representatives I would most likely not get anyone to speak with me.”
Later, when the detective was able to get ahold of the hospital’s lawyer, he relayed the difficulties he had in contacting hospital employees for his investigation.
“I expressed my concern over how the hospital appeared to be interjecting their attorneys into the investigation and [the lawyer] told me that he represents each of the employees at the hospital (whether they currently knew this or not). As there did not appear to be a method of speaking with hospital staff outside of going through [the lawyer], I asked him to schedule the interviews as quickly as possible.”
According to police reports, a lawyer representing the hospital was present for most, if not all, interviews conducted for the criminal investigation.
Roman-Cabezas was charged Dec. 12, 2019 with two counts of second-degree rape and two counts of indecent liberties. A court hearing was scheduled for Jan. 13, 2020, but he failed to appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Police checked the Nob Hill Boulevard apartment complex where he used to live, but found he’d moved away in 2018. He reportedly left a forwarding address with apartment management to send any mail to somewhere in Sanford, North Carolina.
According to the state Department of Health, Roman-Cabezas has an active medical license, with no enforcement action against him. KAPP-KVEW reached out to the Washington State Medical Commission, which provided the following statement:
“We have an open case on Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas that is still in process. There have been some COVID-19 related delays. Additionally, we have been informed by his lawyer that he is no longer in the U.S.”
Police believe Roman-Cabezas may be in Costa Rica, where he attended medical school. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Costa Rica, which is responsible for the audit of medicine and surgery in Costa Rica, Roman-Cabezas’s medical license is still active.
An internet search for “Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas” turned up a series of blog posts containing pictures of him and videos that purport to be authored by the doctor.
The profile of “Dr. Alberto Roman-Cabezas” on the publishing platform Wattpad includes a picture of the doctor and the following biography:
“Alberto Román Cabezas has led a large part of his life interested in helping the health and well-being of his patients. Currently, Alberto Román Cabezas is a service provider at the San Francisco de Asís Hospital in Grecia Alajuela, Costa Rica. With a specialty in Internal Medicine, Alberto has held that position since 2018 in different hospitals. In addition to this, Alberto Román Cabezas was recently invited speaker at the Greek medical congress in Grecia, Alajuela.”
KAPP-KVEW reached out to San Francisco de Asís Hospital to confirm whether Roman-Cabezas is employed with them, but received no response as of Friday evening.
“There is also a YouTube account under his name with videos indicating that he is a ‘police rape doctor’ in South America,” Smith said. “This doctor has fled authorities and we don’t know if he will ever be brought to justice.”