Doctor suspended for sex with patient sues over board minutes

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An Indianapolis doctor whose license was suspended after he admitted to having a five-year sexual relationship with a patient says he has been libeled by the Indiana Medical Licensing Board for how it recorded the matter in its official minutes.

Dr. John Steenbergen, an internal medicine physician, wants a judge to order the licensing board to change the minutes, which he said are inaccurate and have damaged his reputation.

In his petition, filed April 24 in Marion Superior Court, Steenbergen acknowledged having a sexual relationship with the patient between 2010 and 2015. He also admitted administering the patient an abortion-inducing drug and paying her more than $250,000.

But, he argued, he was not the father of the child and did not begin a sexual relationship with the patient until four months after the abortion.

“The patient became pregnant by another man (not Dr. Steenbergen) sometime before May 2010, but she wanted to end the pregnancy,” his petition said. “The patient implored Dr. Steenbergen to help her.”

He said he administered an abortion-inducing drug called misoprostol to her on June 5, 2010, ending the pregnancy. Less than a month later, he began making payments to her for undisclosed reasons. In September 2010, he began engaging in a lengthy “emotional, sexual and/or romantic relationship with the patient,” he wrote in the petition.

Steenbergen most recently practiced with IU Health Family Physicians and Internal Medicine, 4880 Century Plaza Road, in Indianapolis. IU Health Physicians “promptly terminated” Steenbergen in early 2015 when the improper actions were uncovered, said Jeff Swiatek, an IU Health spokesman.

Steenbergen’s relationship with his patient came to the attention of the Indiana Attorney General’s office, which asked the state medical licensing board in September 2015 to impose disciplinary action. The attorney general’s complaint said Steenbergen was unfit to practice, due to his inappropriate relationship with the patient and his failure to keep proper medical records regarding treatment.

According to court filings, Steenbergen began treating the patient for undisclosed ailments in 2005. Four years later, the patient lost employment and medical insurance, but Steenbergen agreed to continue treating her after business hours for free, without keeping records.

Steenbergen also acknowledged prescribing her hydrocodone, a pain medication, and lorazepam, often used for anxiety and sleep disorders, for several years, sometimes after normal business hours, and sometimes without keeping records.

In March 2016, Steenbergen appeared before the medical licensing board and presented a proposed settlement agreement with the state. The agreement called for an indefinite suspension of Steenbergen’s medical license, with the agreement that he not petition for reinstatement of his license for at least two years, and that he undergo a fitness evaluation. The board formally accepted the agreement in April 2016.

The board’s minutes read: “A complaint was filed in September 2015 alleging that [Steenbergen] prescribed controlled substances to a female patient between 2010 and 2014 without keeping records, and engaged in a sexual relationship with this patient. When the patient became pregnant, he performed an abortion outside of his normal business hours and has paid the patient over $250,000 since July 2010.”

Steenbergen, in his court petition, called the minutes “defamatory and libelous.” He said a reasonable person, reading the minutes, would erroneously conclude that the patient became pregnant with Dr. Steenbergen’s child.

In the court filing, Steenbergen said he asked the licensing board several times to correct the minutes, and even supplied language for such a correction. The board declined his requests.

A board spokeswoman did not respond to IBJ’s request for a comment on Steenbergen’s allegations of inaccurate minutes, although she did supply several documents, at IBJ’s request.

It was unclear why Steenbergen made payments to the patient or why he treated her for several years without payment. Steenbergen’s lawyer, Sherry A. Fabina-Abney said her client had no further comment on the case.

In his court petition, Steenbergen said it was urgent that the minutes be corrected to clear his name.

“Dr. Steenbergen comes from a very reputable family with several highly regarded physicians and other professionals,” his petition said. “Because the board’s minutes are readily accessible by anyone who searches Dr. Steenbergen’s name on the internet, including employers, family members, his children and grandchildren, failure to amend the narrative will result in wholly unwarranted harm not only to Dr. Steenbergen but to those individuals as well.”


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