On Monday, Columbia President Minouche Shafik, alongside the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, announced a multi-pronged plan to respond to the abuses of former CUIMC gynecologist Robert Hadden. Shafik’s statement also included the first public apology from Columbia University for its role in the case.

Content warning: This story contains mentions of sexual assault.

On Monday evening, The Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) announced the establishment of the Center for Patient Safety Science, a new entity aimed at defining the “future of quality care and patient safety.” The plan was announced alongside an apology from University President Minouche Shafik and Chief Executive Director of CUIMC Dr. Katrina Armstrong for the University’s “mishandling” of the highly publicized Robert Hadden case. Hadden, a former CUIMC gynecologist, has been accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of former patients from throughout his 30-year career at Columbia. In September, over 300 of Hadden’s former patients sued Columbia over its handling of the case, alleging the University “willingly enabled, aided, abetted, concealed and repeatedly covered up” Hadden’s abuses. The full statement can be read below.

In a break from previous statements, Shafik’s latest statement admits Columbia University’s culpability in the Hadden case, reading, “Columbia failed these survivors, and for that we are deeply sorry.” She also wrote that the University is now aiming to “repair harm and prevent further trauma—moving us forward and rebuilding the trust of our entire community.”

The statement also outlines several initiatives the University will implement to heighten controls on patient safety and compensate survivors. One part of this “multi- pronged plan” is to notify all 6,500 previous patients of Hadden about his conviction and charges and inform them of their patient rights, an action previously called for during campus protests earlier in the semester. The University will also open a “Survivor’s Settlement Fund” of $100 million which will open January 2024. 

Several news outlets have described Columbia’s administration as deeply complicit in enabling Hadden’s persistent sexual abuse of patients. An October 2023 investigation by Forbes alleged that Columbia staff were aware of Hadden’s ongoing abuse since 1994. An investigation by ProPublica, published in September, revealed that the University staff in the OB-GYN department allowed Robbert Hadden to continue seeing patients in spite of knowledge of several allegations. The ProPublica report also alleged that University administration blocked evidence and resisted cooperation with legal proceedings during the NYPD investigation into Hadden’s abuses. The University’s handling of the case has sparked outrage among students, alumni, and the larger community. In September, protesters gathered at the inauguration of President Shafik to demand that Columbia take accountability and “end the cover up.” Trucks carrying bright pink signs saying “End the Cover Up” circled campus earlier in the semester.

Shafik first released a statement about the case on September 18, writing that University leadership is “heartbroken for those who have suffered and continue to suffer from these terrible actions” and “pledge[s] to do everything possible to ensure the safety and welfare of all members of [the] community.” However, the statement drew criticisms from a number of Hadden’s survivors, including Evelyn Yang and Marissa Hoechstetter, who in a statement of their own called Shafik’s statement “self-serving propaganda” and a “continuation of Columbia’s 35 year refusal to acknowledge that they enabled and protected Hadden’s abuse.” 

Monday’s statement discussed the University’s commitment to heighten transparency and institutional accountability. The statement announced that Joan Loughnane, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, will oversee an independent investigation into the institutional factors that protected Hadden’s abuse. 

Additionally, the newly instituted Center for Patient Safety Science will aim to “conduct research that will define the future of quality care and patient safety.” The University has also set up a webpage consolidating information and resources for survivors. 

Statement from Columbia and CUIMC, posted November 13, 2023: 

Columbia University and Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) announced a multi-pronged plan to address the abuse, harm, and trauma inflicted by former gynecologist Robert Hadden and to support survivors. New Columbia President Minouche Shafik and Chief Executive Officer of CUIMC Dr. Katrina Armstrong announced that this comprehensive plan: 

  • Commits to an external investigation to thoroughly examine the circumstances and failures that allowed Hadden’s abuse to continue;
  • Notifies nearly 6500 former patients of the crimes for which Hadden has been convicted and sentenced;
  • Offers survivors the opportunity to participate in a new $100 million survivors’ settlement fund; 
  • Launches a center for patient safety and initiates engagement with outside experts to review CUIMC’s current quality and patient safety programs, policies, and procedures.

“We owe it to the courageous survivors and the entire Columbia community to fully reckon with Hadden’s abuses,” said Minouche Shafik, President of Columbia University and Dr. Katrina Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer of the CUIMC. “Columbia failed these survivors, and for that we are deeply sorry. This announcement aims to ensure we are on a path that repairs harm and prevents further trauma – moving us forward and rebuilding the trust of our entire community.”

Hadden left CUIMC in 2012 and has not worked as a doctor since then. He was convicted of federal sexual assault charges in January 2023 and sentenced to 20 years in prison in July. The University has previously settled more than 220 survivor claims through settlement funds. President Shafik joined the University in July 2023 and Dr. Armstrong in March 2022.

An external investigator, Joan Loughnane, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP who previously served in a series of leadership positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, will lead an investigation. Ms. Loughnane will thoroughly examine the circumstances that allowed Hadden’s abuse to continue, establish a process for survivors and others with knowledge of Hadden’s abuse to share their stories, and issue public findings. 

Direct notice will be provided to nearly 6500 former Hadden patients to alert them to his conviction and sentence – letting them know that they are not alone and that resources are available to them. This notification will inform former patients of their rights under the New York State Adult Survivors Act. It also will provide information about the survivors’ settlement fund and how to make a claim, and will encourage any patient with any information about Hadden’s conduct to reach out to the external investigator.

The $100 million survivors’ settlement fund will be administered by Simone Lelchuk, an experienced, trauma-informed settlement fund administrator. In consultation with Columbia, Ms. Lelchuk will work to establish the fund protocols. The fund will open in January 2024 and stay open for at least one year – providing a pathway for survivors to receive resources without needing to retain a lawyer. In addition to individual outreach, the administrator and Columbia will widely advertise how survivors can access the fund. 

To help promote these efforts, Columbia has set up a website – cuimc.columbia.edu/rebuildingtrust – that will centralize access to resources and support for survivors and will be continuously updated with developments on Columbia’s efforts.

Building on ongoing efforts to ensure patients are provided with a safe environment of care, CUIMC has also developed a series of new patient safety policies and programs. The foundation of the work is the expansion of channels for patients and staff to report physician misconduct, complemented by investments in chaperone training and other safety systems. In addition, CUIMC is committed to three significant new quality and patient safety (QPS) initiatives:

  • Collaboration with outside experts to provide transparent monitoring, assessment, and improvement of CUIMC patient safety programs and procedures.
  • Investment in predictive analytics for identifying high-risk behavior by faculty and staff to prevent harm before it occurs.
  • Creation of a new, nation-leading Center for Patient Safety Science to conduct research that will define the future of quality care and patient safety.

Featured Image via CUIMC