It wasn’t until last month – that is, two decades later – that Rockefeller University Hospital went public with a statement regarding reports as early as the 1990s alleging that Reginald Archibald, its star endocrinologist and children’s growth and maturation researcher, had sexually abused his young patients.
In an Oct. 5 statement, the organization acknowledged receiving the reports, reaching out to Reginald Archibald’s now-adult patients in an attempt to remedy the situation. The New York Times, which broke the story on Oct. 18, reports that the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to sue the hospital has passed. But that could change.
Rockefeller University Grapples with a High-Profile Abuse Scandal
A highly-regarded, prestigious scientific institution, Rockefeller University was founded in the early 1900s by industrial tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and is the oldest biomedical research facility in the United States. First known as the Rockefeller Medical Research Institute and later the Rockefeller Institute, the school’s 80-person faculty includes 37 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine and five Nobel laureates.
Reginald Archibald, who passed away in 2007, focused his practice and research on children who were short for their age. He was associated with the hospital from 1940-46 and 1948-82, and also taught at the university. He became a professor emeritus in 1980 and a senior emeritus physician in 1987, honors which have recently been revoked.
“In response to these findings, Dr. Archibald’s emeritus status at the Hospital and University have been rescinded and references to him have been removed from the Hospital and University webpages,” according to the hospital statement.
According to the Times, most of the victims were boys and the abuse, which typically included being told to masturbate themselves or being masturbated by Reginald Archibald, took place when they were alone with Archibald in the examination room. Archibald also measured the boys’ penises while flaccid and erect and took Polaroid photos of his young patients’ naked bodies, among other violations.
The hospital told the Times that it has heard from many former patients alleging child sexual abuse since the letter was sent. A hospital representative responded to a request for comment stating that no communication beyond the hospital’s online statement would be made available.
The hospital’s letter to patients, reprinted in its statement, conspicuously neglected to make any mention of child sexual abuse or misconduct. The brief six-sentence communication states without specification, “Based on reports from several former patients regarding Dr. Archibald’s interactions with them, we are reaching out to as many former patients as we can locate.”
The hospital said that it’s setting up the Rockefeller Hospital Therapy Fund to cover the costs of counseling for former patients and is partnering with the nonprofit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to provide support as well as referrals to qualified counselors.
Proposal to Extend the Statute of Limitations in New York
News of yet another child sexual abuse scandal at the hands of trusted adults immediately attracted widespread media attention from CNN, CBS, NPR and other national and local outlets. The coverage has prompted a renewed attention to ongoing issues with the statute of limitations.
Legislation to create a one-year window in which child sexual abuse victims could sue regardless of when the abuse happened is supported by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo but held up in the state senate. Strongly opposed by institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church, the proposed legislation would also lengthen the statute of limitations for filing criminal and civil charges in these cases.
Investigating Reginald Archibald: Better Late Than Never?
According to its October statement, the hospital first responded in 2004 to a patient complaint filed that year by hiring Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate and by notifying the federal Office of Human Research Protections, the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct, and the Manhattan District Attorney.
“Following its review of then-available information, including from interviews with former patients, faculty, administrators, and staff, and two prior reports made in the 1990s that were located, Debevoise found certain allegations credible and determined that it was likely that some of Dr. Archibald’s behavior towards this patient was inappropriate,” the 2018 statement reads.
The 2018 investigation was sparked by a former patient who had not been identified in the 2004 investigation and was supported by testimony from several additional patients.
According to the New York Times report, the hospital offered no information about its response to the complaints from the 1990s.