LEWES, Delaware -- A U.S. hospital has revealed that it investigated a 1996 complaint against a pediatrician now accused of molesting more than 100 patients, but the doctor was cleared of any wrongdoing.
A nurse reported in 1996 that Dr. Earl Bradley may have inappropriately touched young girls in his care.
Officials at Beebe Medical Center in Delaware said after Bradley's December arrest that they were not aware of any past problems with him. They have since acknowledged that Bradley was investigated by local police in 2005, but no charges were filed.
Officials said in a statement that they were revealing the 1996 complaint now because they could do so "without jeopardizing the criminal case."
A message left seeking comment at the office of one of Bradley's public defenders wasn't immediately returned Sunday.
Police and prosecutors found out about the 1996 investigation after they charged him in December.
Bradley faces 471 criminal counts including rape, sexual exploitation of a child and continuous sexual abuse of a child. Authorities say he videotaped the assaults of his patients, including infants and toddlers, some of whom screamed or tried to get away. The recordings date back to 1998.
Beebe CEO Jeffrey M. Fried said he regrets not being able to stop Bradley in 1996.
"Once you know what happened, you see what a diabolical person he was," Fried said. "It makes your stomach turn."
The 1996 complaint came from a nurse who worked with Bradley. She raised several concerns, chiefly about his practice of using a catheter to obtain urine samples from young girls. The nurse questioned why Bradley needed girls to undress before an exam and the way he positioned girls while he examined their genitals. She was also concerned about his kissing and hugging of patients.
The complaint eventually reached Fried, who has been Beebe's CEO since 1995. He said he considered it a "clinical" concern and not a complaint of a sexual nature.
An internal investigation concluded there was nothing unusual about Bradley's clinical practices, and while Fried said Bradley's hugging and kissing of patients was "quirky," the hospital did not consider it to be a violation of policy. Bradley was not disciplined.
Chase T. Brockstedt, an attorney who represents one alleged victim's family, said Beebe missed a golden opportunity to stop Bradley.
"Think of all the children who would have been spared," Brockstedt said.
Fried also told The News Journal of Wilmington that the hospital did not disclose the 1996 complaint during the 2005 investigation into allegations of patient abuse by Bradley, which ended without any charges being filed. The hospital had received a subpoena seeking any complaints and disciplinary actions against Bradley.
But hospital officials were not obligated to report the complaint because Bradley was cleared after an internal review, Fried said, adding that the hospital believed police were pursuing a case related to Bradley's financial troubles.
In a statement, Beebe said there "has never been any attempt to hide Bradley's behavior. There was simply no reason to do so, nor would anyone at Beebe Medical Center protect a doctor, or anyone, at the expense of the children in our community. Remember that members of our staff and physician community continued to use Bradley to treat their children and grandchildren until publicly informed of his abuse."
Bradley is being held in lieu of $4.7 million bail. A status conference in the case is scheduled for May 17.