In 2020 and 2021, at least five medical staff members at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta raised problems with a surgeon's behavior toward female staff and said he was lax in his treatment of patients. A sixth, the medical director of the surgery department, claimed retaliation for bringing forward others’ complaints. Today the surgeon, Dr. Ian Reight, sits on the hospital system's board. Credit: Photo illustration by Erin Rhoda; photo of Reight courtesy of WABI; photo of MaineGeneral Medical Center by Troy Bennett / BDN

A female surgeon had reached her limit. In July 2020, she typed up a list of concerns for her hospital’s human resources office about a male surgeon whom she worked with. He had made an inappropriate comment about the breasts of a female patient, excluded the female surgeons when he held meetings in the men’s locker room, put patients at risk by not coming in to see them when on call, and left office staff in tears due to his “condescending and abusive communication style,” she wrote.

She pressed send and waited. It took human resources six months to follow up to suggest a meeting.

The female surgeon couldn’t know it at the time, but her complaint about her colleague, Dr. Ian Reight, would end up mirroring those of at least four other women at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta in 2020 and 2021, and make its way into a larger inquiry before the Maine Human Rights Commission.

She also couldn’t know that she would become so frustrated by a seeming lack of consequences for Reight that she would decide to leave the hospital and share her experience publicly.

“I was deeply unsettled by Dr. Ian Reight’s pattern of sexual discrimination, harassment and abusive behavior towards staff (especially women) at all levels. My concerns were not addressed,” she responded to human resources. “I hold myself to high standards and expect an organization I work for to do the same.”

The Bangor Daily News spoke with 14 current and former hospital staff members who described the workplace culture and shared emails and other documents showing a trail of sex discrimination and patient care complaints about Reight and two other male surgeons over a period of at least a year.

During that time, Reight rose to a leadership position despite at least five women submitting complaints about him and while claiming on its website he had certifications he actually did not, the BDN’s investigation found.

Records filed with the human rights commission paint a complicated picture of the general surgery department in 2020 and 2021. While the hospital described the surgery group in records as dysfunctional, it placed the blame not on Reight but on a middle manager who it said did not do enough to address the complaints or lead the department.

But staff didn’t just report problems to that manager. A minimum of five medical staff alerted human resources, the chief executive officer, the chief medical officers for the hospital and the MaineGeneral Health system and at least four hospital board members about how Reight fostered what the female surgeon called a “degenerative culture.” A sixth, the middle manager, Dr. Carlo Gammaitoni, claimed he was retaliated against for bringing forward others’ complaints.

Despite staff alerting hospital leaders of problems, Reight now holds a leadership position. As president of medical staff, he serves on the board of the hospital system, prompting some employees to question whether sufficient oversight exists to ensure doctors are held accountable to standards of professional conduct.

Their complaints and a long paper trail provide a rare window into the dealings of a hospital workplace in which even the hospital said communication and relationships devolved. MaineGeneral Health is the state’s third-largest health care system and primarily serves central Maine.

Last year, the BDN spoke with Gammaitoni, the former medical director for the surgery department, who said he tried to address the complaints and sought permission from higher-ups to discipline the surgeons, but was stymied by them and then stripped of his management role.

In December 2021, Gammaitoni filed a complaint with the human rights commission, which enforces Maine’s anti-discrimination laws. He alleged the hospital retaliated against him by demoting him after he brought up his concerns to administrators about Reight and two other male surgeons behaving in “hostile and demeaning” ways toward female staff and being lax in their medical duties, such as by not responding when nurses called them about patients.

“It demonstrates MaineGeneral’s entire approach to these problematic surgeons — bend over backwards for the unsafe, discriminating male surgeons, and disregard or minimize the voice of those opposing the unsafe practices and discrimination,” he wrote.

The human rights commission confirmed in September that Gammaitoni and the hospital agreed to a settlement before the commission concluded its investigation. The settlement is confidential, but Gammaitoni’s complaint and the hospital’s rebuttal are public.

The records show the hospital believed Gammaitoni didn’t do enough to swiftly address personnel problems. It disagreed with Gammaitoni’s description of certain behavior as sex discrimination or harassment, saying the examples he provided simply show “a department plagued by poor communication and devoid of leadership.”

What’s more, any suggestion that the hospital did nothing in response to complaints “is both uninformed and inaccurate,” the hospital said in its rebuttal.

The human rights commission redacts names from its records, but because the BDN had already spoken to staff and reviewed their documentation, it could confirm that the complaints centered on Reight. Gammaitoni told the BDN in June he could no longer speak with the newspaper.

Reight did not respond to a phone call or multiple emails asking for an interview and describing the allegations made against him.

The hospital’s legal obligations to maintain confidentiality prevent it from responding to specific allegations involving employees or patients, CEO Chuck Hays said in a written statement.

In general, however, “[h]uman rights, patient care and safety are of paramount importance to MaineGeneral. When concerns are brought forward, MaineGeneral is quick to conduct internal and external reviews,” he said.

The Bangor Daily News spoke with 14 current and former MaineGeneral Medical Center staff members who described the workplace culture and shared emails and other documents showing a trail of sex discrimination and patient care complaints about Dr. Ian Reight and two other male surgeons over a period of at least a year. Credit: Photo illustration by Erin Rhoda

‘Fragmented communication’

The female surgeon’s concerns centered on Reight’s treatment of both patients and female staff.

For example, Reight “rudely minimized” the concerns of a patient in the breast care clinic, the female surgeon reported to the hospital’s human resources office on July 5, 2020. Reight allegedly told the patient, who had a medical concern about her breast, that her worries must have been attributed to distress about how her husband would react to her breasts. The patient was shocked and upset, the female surgeon wrote, and ended up seeking a second opinion.

The female surgeon declined to be named for fear of professional reprisal but shared email exchanges with the BDN that are also cited in Gammaitoni’s public human rights complaint.

Reight stood in the way of female colleagues in the surgical group receiving equal opportunities, the female surgeon said. In one instance, Reight and two other male surgeons were given the chance to learn a new procedure, but the female surgeons were not invited to participate or informed the training was occurring.

Reight also held meetings in the men’s locker room where decisions were made that resulted in changes that affected the entire practice, she said.

“Dr. Reight presents himself as the leader of this group of surgeons, and he seems perfectly comfortable excluding his female colleagues from participation,” the female surgeon told human resources.

Reight was not coming into the hospital while on call overnight to see patients, canceled fully scheduled clinics with patients without providing 24 hours notice, and neglected to tell the oncoming surgeon about overnight consults, which resulted in patients not being seen for hours, she said.

In his human rights complaint, Gammaitoni added another issue: The male surgeons frequently rescheduled the female surgeons’ surgeries, so the men could go first and not have to wait for the women to finish their operations. The male surgeons also circumvented the process Gammaitoni had put in place to evenly distribute more advanced operations and instead kept those surgeries for themselves, he wrote.

MaineGeneral attorney Katharine Rand responded that concerns to do with training, scheduling and communication fell within Gammaitoni’s scope of authority to address, and he didn’t do enough. Certain surgeons were not offered the specific training because they lacked the requisite skills, Rand wrote in the rebuttal to Gammaitoni’s human rights complaint.

What’s more, an absence of regular meetings contributed to “fragmented communication” between employees in the surgery department, “some of whom were apparently discussing work whenever they found themselves together, including in the locker room,” Rand wrote.

Gammaitoni replied that he stopped holding in-person quarterly department meetings because of the pandemic and that the surgeons still met remotely every morning during case hand-offs. He instructed the male surgeons in June 2020 to stop changing other surgeons’ schedules, to come into the hospital while on call, and to respond professionally to nurses and staff, he wrote.

But that apparently didn’t happen. Human resources followed up six months after the female surgeon’s emailed complaint. The surgeon said she was perplexed they would reach out after so much time had passed and after she had decided to leave.

“I appreciate all the hard work Dr. Gammaitoni has done in trying [to] rectify this situation, but it became apparent to me in our first meeting that the hospital is not interested in improving its degenerative culture,” she replied Jan. 18, 2021, to human resources staff and the hospital’s chief medical officer.

Just as the hospital cannot talk publicly about personnel matters, it is also limited in its ability to tell complainants what has happened in response to reported allegations, Hays, the hospital CEO, said.

Given that about 82 percent of its workforce identifies as female, “MaineGeneral takes allegations of gender discrimination seriously,” Hays said. It “investigates them thoroughly and takes appropriate corrective action when indicated.”

‘Vulgar statements’

Current and former employees questioned why Reight stepped into a leadership role given the complaints against him.

Less than two weeks before the female surgeon reported Reight to human resources, another female doctor had sent similar complaints to someone with more authority: Hays, the head of the hospital.

The female doctor — an ear, nose and throat surgeon — had worked at MaineGeneral for six years before “being forced to resign due to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation due to her whistleblower activities,” her Tennessee attorney, Jeff Land, wrote in a June 25, 2020, email to Hays.

In the email, which the BDN obtained from another hospital employee, the lawyer asserted that Reight had interfered with the female doctor’s employment contract and spread rumors that she slept around after she rejected his sexual advances. The female doctor initially said she would talk with the BDN in the spring of 2021, but she eventually declined, citing advice not to speak with anyone.

Her situation was not discussed in the human rights complaint, but another staff member witnessed what she called Reight’s “vulgar statements” to the female doctor, which he allegedly made in front of multiple people. A second staff member separately recalled being horrified upon hearing Reight spread rumors about the doctor being promiscuous.

The lawyer’s written complaint shows the female doctor believed Reight effectively ended her employment after she didn’t pass a board certification exam as retaliation for rejecting his advances. Her contract allowed her to continue working without being board certified in a specialty area as long as the chief of surgery, who at the time was Reight, vouched for her.

But Reight did not support her, according to the lawyer’s email, even though an academic committee did. Other physicians had continued their employment without board certifications, the lawyer pointed out. Reight himself was not even board certified, though MaineGeneral’s website falsely said he was.

At the time, the hospital’s website said Reight was board certified in surgical critical care — a specialty related to managing patients with life-threatening conditions — in addition to general surgery. Records from the American Board of Surgery, however, show Reight has never been certified in surgical critical care. His general surgery certification also lapsed at the end of 2019, with records showing he was not certified during the first half of 2020, a period during which he was still operating on patients, although he later regained the certification.

The American Board of Surgery does not allow surgeons to list noncurrent certifications. It characterizes misrepresenting certifications as “unethical and unprofessional behavior,” and says those who do so may be subject to legal action.

Emails show at least two people notified the hospital of Reight’s lapsed and falsely advertised certifications in 2020. It took MaineGeneral until May 2021 to update Reight’s page on its website and remove the incorrect credential, nearly a year after other employees flagged it.

The hospital’s communications department made an error when it described Reight as board certified in critical care, Hays said, while Reight’s board certification in general surgery lapsed “due to a delay in submitting the requisite paperwork.”

The delay “had no impact whatsoever on Dr. Reight’s medical license or ability to perform surgery, much less on the quality of care he provided MaineGeneral patients,” Hays said.

After the two women reported his conduct, Reight became the hospital’s vice president for medical staff, a role that put him on MaineGeneral Health’s board of directors.

The role is usually elected, but Reight “assumed” the role, Hays said, after the doctor who had been elected to the position left the hospital at the end of the summer of 2020. Reight had previously run for the position and lost. The hospital declined to elaborate on how exactly Reight assumed the role.

“How would you support a man with this many allegations being promoted to vice president … without an election proving he won?” questioned one staff member who declined to be named to prevent professional backlash.

‘Most misogynist place she has worked’

Complaints continued after Reight’s advancement.

On Nov. 25, 2020, a charge nurse alerted the surgical medical director, Gammaitoni, that nurses were having ongoing problems getting ahold of on-call physicians, including Reight.

“Staff are losing their confidence in him and feel that he does not acknowledge them or take them seriously. When he is on call staff are scared to contact him as he is not nice to them (especially overnight),” wrote the nurse, who added that it seemed like a “boys club” between Reight and two other male doctors.

In response, Gammaitoni decided to interview employees in various parts of the hospital to learn more, he wrote in his human rights complaint. He concluded that staff were reporting their concerns about poor behavior and mistreatment of women, and then leaving when it appeared management did little to respond.

One of those providers said she left last year after seeing administrators repeatedly let Reight get away with mistreating others, even after she raised concerns with several hospital leaders.

“I understand they can’t tell the employee what they’ve done to address certain issues, but the behavior never changed,” said the provider, who declined to be named to prevent professional ramifications.

The hospital replied that it was Gammaitoni’s responsibility to quickly address the concerns raised by his staff.

For instance, Gammaitoni didn’t tell his superior that nurses were hesitant to communicate with the male surgeons until a month after he received the charge nurse’s email, the hospital’s rebuttal said. The supervisor suggested that Gammaitoni meet individually with each of the three surgeons to discuss issues, listen to their responses and determine how to proceed.

But Gammaitoni did not meet with them and, instead, stopped communicating with them altogether, “going so far as to ignore their messages and calls,” said Rand, the hospital’s attorney.

When Gammaitoni finally met with one male surgeon, whose name is blacked out in records, on Jan. 6, 2021, that surgeon “expressed a commitment to being more aware of how his demeanor or words affected others,” Rand said.

Gammaitoni argued that he had already talked in June with the three surgeons about their behavior, and they had failed to improve, so they needed to be disciplined. He needed approval from senior leaders to punish them, however, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrew Dionne and the hospital system’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Diaz didn’t take the matter seriously, he wrote.

It wasn’t until the hospital hired an outside consultant that Gammaitoni agreed to meet with all three male surgeons. But the meeting went poorly, Gammaitoni said, when an administrator, whose name is redacted, undermined the consultant’s advice by allowing the surgeons to have their say over Gammaitoni’s objections.

Gammaitoni did not think meeting with them would make any difference because he did not believe the surgeons cared how their behavior had hurt the team, he wrote in his summary to the consultant.

“They complained about not having enough help, too much work, and me adding work that surgeons normally do. Not once realizing that we are short staffed because their behavior has driven people away,” he wrote.

On March 4, 2021, the two chief medical officers told Gammaitoni he was being removed from his position as medical director for surgery, according to his complaint. Dionne announced to staff in an email the following week that he would replace Gammaitoni.

Gammaitoni was not demoted because he raised concerns, “but rather because he was ineffective at addressing those concerns,” Rand wrote. Gammaitoni replied that of course he was ineffective when MaineGeneral undermined him and did not sign off on discipline.

“Predictably, MaineGeneral’s strategy of repeatedly siding with and listening to discriminating surgeons did not result in curbing discriminatory behavior at MaineGeneral,” Gammaitoni wrote.

After being demoted, Gammaitoni and other staff turned to system board members in April 2021. The board members wrote up their notes of one meeting, obtained by the BDN, that described the complaints.

“A number of employees have said they would not allow any of their family members to have surgery at MG. … Mistreatment of female staff, patients, nurses with belittling comments, insults and public yelling in front of patients, families, and staff,” the board members wrote. “[A] female surgeon described her experiences at MG as the ‘most misogynist place she has worked.’”

The board members — Joey Joseph, Nate Cotnoir, Stephanie Bartholomew and Janice Kassman — either did not return messages or would not confirm to the BDN that they met with hospital staff members. It’s not clear whether they did anything in response.

But their written interactions show at least one had concerns. In an email after an April meeting, Joseph, the owner of Cold Brook Mitsubishi in Skowhegan, told a medical provider to give him and Cotnoir any documents that could back up the provider’s account.

“Time is an issue as we are trying to expedite this matter but accuracy is paramount,” Joseph wrote.

The provider obliged by sending a write-up of yet another report to human resources from March 22, 2021. The provider had recently accompanied a female colleague to human resources where the woman reported Reight for making demeaning statements about a third female surgeon.

Reight allegedly told the complainant he had heard people saying the surgeons treated female partners differently — and that it was true they treated a particular surgeon differently “‘because we can’t stand her, we don’t like her, she’s a terrible surgeon, we can’t stand being in a room with her,’” according to the complaint.

Five days later, the provider followed up with a list of concerns to Joseph and Cotnoir from several staff, including “an underlying fear … that nothing is going to change.”

Joseph responded, “Thanks for the update. I’m not at all comfortable with this situation.”

The provider said she didn’t hear back again.

“That’s a management issue but not a board issue,” Joseph told the BDN when reached by phone this summer. “I really can’t talk about any personnel issues.”

Gammaitoni remained on staff as a surgeon before leaving the hospital a few months later, in the fall of 2021.

Patient care and safety are of “paramount importance to MaineGeneral,” Hays said. An independent external review group recently looked over a number of the general surgery team’s cases and found no deviations from the standard of care, he said.

All MaineGeneral staff are required to complete annual training on maintaining a supportive and inclusive culture. In addition, MaineGeneral provides one-on-one guidance for employees “to help them communicate better with their colleagues in what is an especially stressful profession,” he said.

Reight remains in a leadership position. After serving two years as vice president, he automatically advanced to president of medical staff this year.

Information to share? Please email erhoda@bangordailynews.com.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...