Formers workers claim suspended doctor was involved in treatment

Associated Press/August 1, 2001
By Bob Anez

Helena -- A psychiatrist who lost his license over allegations he used drugs and hypnosis to convinced a patient she killed scores of people in satanic rituals, has been involved in treating patients at a children's hospital here, some former employees charge.

They told The Associated Press that Dr. Bennett Braun had direct patient contact, recommended diagnoses and treatment and participated in therapy sessions with patients when he first came to work at Shodair Children's Hospital.

A hospital executive denies the allegations, but the claims prompted an inquiry by officials in the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

"If these accusations are accurate, we're very concerned," said Gail Gray, agency director. "Children served at Shodair are very vulnerable and they're deserving of special protection."

The former staffers said Braun served as clinical director and manager of the children's unit for 4 1/2 months, during which they say he had frequent dealings with patients.

Shodair says Braun currently serves as a liaison between the hospital and insurance companies, supplying reports on diagnosis and treatment given insured patients.

But Renee Bonanini, director of nursing at Shodair for two years until November, said Braun's duties were much different when he first arrived about a year ago.

"We kept being told he's not a doctor and wouldn't be using his name as a doctor, but then we find him acting exactly in a therapeutic manner," she said. "He had direct therapeutic contact and ran therapy groups."

Russell Clark, a former child-care worker in the children's unit, said Braun gave staff direction on handling disruptive patients when a staff psychiatrist wasn't available.

"That put him in a position of responsibility for direct patient care," he said. "There was a lot of patient contact in that position. He had occasions to talk with patients."

Another former employee in the children's unit, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Braun had closed-door sessions with patients.

"He interviewed patients to determine what was going on with them and how their day was going," he said. "He should never have been allowed on the unit."

Jack Casey, hospital administrator, said Braun has ever had personal contact with patients or played a role in diagnosis or treatment in any of the three positions he has held at Shodair.

"There's no way he was doing any type of treatment," Casey said. "I am positive that didn't occur. Our physicians wouldn't have stood for it. They would have been in here just screaming."

Casey said claims otherwise are lies by unhappy former employees.

"Anytime you're dealing with employees and they become disgruntled, they make all sorts of allegations," he said.

Howard Brinton, Braun's attorney, declined to comment, saying only that the former employees "are not reliable."

Braun's professional problems arose from his treatment of a woman and her two young children over a six-year period beginning in 1986. The dispute centered around treatment of multiple-personality disorders using repressed memory therapy.

Braun, 59, was sued by the woman, who was diagnosed as having multiple personality disorder. She claimed Braun used drugs and hypnosis to convince her she had 300 personalities, ate meatloaf made of human flesh and was a high priestess in a satanic cult.

He eventually settled her lawsuit for $10.7 million, but never admitted any of the allegations against him.

Two years later, the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation filed a nine-count complaint against Braun. He agreed to a two-year suspension of his medical license and five years probation. The suspension ends Oct. 7.

The former Shodair employees interviewed by the AP insisted Casey is wrong in believing Braun had no dealings with patients and said they are not on a vendetta against Braun or the hospital.

"I have no reason to lie; I have nothing against Shodair," said Clark, who left in October when Braun refused to give him a day off to care for his sick wife. "To say he has no patient contact is ridiculous."

Bonanini, who quit in November after becoming frustrated by Shodair policies, said she personally sat in a group therapy session Braun ran. She said he had a say in what was considered appropriate medication and treatment. "That's all therapy. That's all controlling the patient," she said.

"He was hired as clinical director. He acted as clinical director," Bonanini said. "He loved being in a position where he could act like a doctor. He wasn't removed from that until Jack Casey thought this (background) would come out.

"The only reason he's in a menial paper-shuffling job now is because someone must have scared Jack Casey with publicity such as this," she added.

Casey, who knew of Braun's troubles in Illinois when hiring him, said Braun could not remain as clinical director because he did not have the required master's degree in social work for the job. The position of unit manager was only temporary, Casey said.

Clark said he did not know the details of Braun's medical license suspension until an AP story last week. That raised concerns about what he said was Braun's contact with Shodair patients.

Bonanini said concerns about Braun's alleged direct patient contact were addressed at some hospital board meetings.

"We took precautions to make sure he would never practice medicine and not have direct patient contact," Casey said. "He has not done it here, he's not doing it here and he won't do it here."

Gray said her department is concerned about Braun's role at the hospital, because it paid $1 million last year to treat children in foster care or on Medicaid.

Dan Anderson, head of the agency's Addictive and Mental Disorders Division, met with Casey Tuesday to discuss Braun's duties at the hospital. He said Casey insisted Braun has never had direct patient contact.

"Jack was adamant that he (Braun) has not been providing any services," Anderson said. "He indicated his understanding was that it was not appropriate to have Doctor Braun providing services to kids. That was reassuring."

But, Anderson said the state has questions in light of comments former Shodair employees made. "It is obviously a big concern when you have credible people saying different things."

Gray said her agency hired Braun last December to review mental health patient records where coverage had been denied by the state's managed care company. He worked under contract for about 4 1/2 months and was paid $2,975, she said.

While state officials knew his license was suspended, they were not aware of the reason, Gray said. "If we had known the depth of issues concerning him, I'm sure we would have reconsidered."

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