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UCLA rocked by charges that staff gynecologist sexually abused patients

Jaclyn Cosgrove, Matt Hamilton, Richard Winton and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- The University of California, Los Angeles was under scrutiny Monday over its handling of a former gynecologist who was charged with sexual battery and exploitation during his treatment of two patients at a university facility.

UCLA acknowledged first receiving a complaint against Dr. James Mason Heaps in 2017 and placed him on leave the following year but did not publicize his reason for departure from the university until this week. That decision is now the subject of an internal review, UCLA said. The university has also asked other students and patients who believe they were treated inappropriately by Heaps to come forward.

"We are deeply sorry for this," Rhonda Curry, a UCLA Health spokeswoman said. "We know we could have done better. ... We want and need to hear from other possible patients."

The charges against Heaps became public Monday after he surrendered to law enforcement and later pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom. His attorney said Heaps did nothing wrong and will fight the charges.

"These are baseless allegations," attorney Tracy Green said. "He's a respected, talented and thorough gynecological oncologist who always sought to treat his patients with dignity and respect."

The arrest comes more than a year after the University of Southern California was rocked by allegations that its former campus gynecologist acted inappropriately toward hundreds of students for nearly three decades. The Los Angeles Times revealed that USC allowed Dr. George Tyndall to leave the university with a settlement and without notifying authorities or his patients. Tyndall has denied the allegations, which are the subject of a criminal investigation.

 

UCLA officials apologized to the campus community and vowed to review how such complaints will be handled in the future.

"Sexual abuse in any form is unacceptable and represents an inexcusable breach of the physician-patient relationship," UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block and Vice Chancellor John Mazziotta, UCLA Health chief executive, said in a joint statement. "We are deeply sorry that a former UCLA physician violated our policies and standards, our trust and the trust of his patients."

Prosecutors have charged Heaps with two counts of sexual battery by fraud and one count of sexual exploitation in connection with acts involving two patients.

Heaps worked part time at the UCLA student health center from about 1983 to 2010, was hired by UCLA Health in 2014 and held medical staff privileges at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1988 to 2018, according to the university.

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