A former patient filed a civil lawsuit against NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, claiming that hospital staff members were grossly negligent when they allegedly turned a blind eye to repeated acts of sexual violence and abuse she suffered while receiving inpatient treatment for anorexia during the 1990s.
Susan Kryhoski, now 40, was 11 years old in 1992 when she was admitted for a 2-month stay at Babies Hospital (now Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital). There, she endured regular assaults by prominent anorexia expert Joseph Silverman, MD, Kryhoski alleged.
Kryhoski’s pediatrician referred her to Silverman’s care based on his reputation in the field of pediatric anorexia. Silverman — who died in 2012 — reportedly began subjecting Kryhoski to “a course of predatory grooming, boundary violations, and physical sexual abuse” starting with her first examination, according to the lawsuit.
In a trend that would continue throughout her “treatment,” Kryhoski claimed that Silverman told her parents to leave the room during this first exam; he then told her that “he needed to inspect her uterus to ensure that she would be capable of bearing children,” the complaint stated.
After this initial incident, Silverman told Kryhoski’s parents that she needed to be immediately admitted to his inpatient treatment program at Babies Hospital, during which Kryhoski was allegedly assigned to an isolated room at the end of one of the hospital halls, where no other anorexia patients were located.
Silverman told Kryhoski that he was in control of when she could leave the hospital and that he would keep her in the hospital indefinitely if she told anyone about the abuse she endured, she alleged.
Throughout Kryhoski’s stay, Silverman severely restricted and monitored any contact that she had with her friends and family, only permitting her to talk to her parents on the phone for 5 minutes a day, she said.
The complaint stated, in no uncertain terms, that the nurses, physicians, and other staff members at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital knew — or should’ve known — of Silverman’s serial abuse. According to the document, hospital nurses monitored all of Kryhoski’s phone calls, and ended them prematurely if she “cried or acted inappropriately.” Additionally, Kryhoski was allegedly never allowed to meet with her parents unsupervised.
“Silverman typically had the nurses leave the room and closed the door behind him,” Kryhoski’s attorney, Karen Menzies, wrote in the lawsuit. “Silverman told his staff not to disturb him during his examinations.”
In an attempt to disclose her abuse to nurses, Kryhoski told MedPage Today that she would use the limited resources she had to draw pictures of Silverman.
“I was writing words like ‘evil,’ ‘monster,’ ‘gross,’ ‘disgusting,’” she said. “I was drawing him with devil horns and stuff coming out of his mouth and evil eyes — everything that a child would do to portray their worst nightmare.”
In response, she recalled, the nurses ripped the pictures down and reprimanded her, never questioning the nature of the drawings.
Eventually, Kryhoski’s parents removed her from inpatient treatment earlier than originally planned, against medical advice. In the years that followed, Kryhoski said that she became suicidal and that her eating disorder was exacerbated by the abuse. She told MedPage Today that she received treatment later in life that contributed to her recovery.
Kryhoski decided to pursue action against NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital a year ago, she said, because her twins — a boy and a girl — were approaching their 11th birthdays, the same age when she was abused.
“As a mother, I wanted to do anything I could to make the world better for my daughter, my children, and to finally give my 11-year-old self a voice,” she said.
A previous complaint was filed against the hospital in June 2020 by another former patient assigned to Silverman’s care in the 1970s for anorexia treatment.
According to documents, Silverman repeatedly assaulted the complainant — who was approximately 14 years old at the time — during “medical examinations,” in which the patient’s mother “would be behind a curtain within a room that was occupied by another patient and occasionally other doctors and nurses.”
About 2 or 3 years after this inpatient stay, she was reportedly diagnosed with peritonitis. She was told that this was caused by untreated gonorrhea that she believed she had contracted as a result of Silverman’s sexual abuse. While she was ultimately cured, one of her ovaries had to be removed as a result of the infection, according to the document.
This former patient allegedly developed a range of mental health issues in the wake of Silverman’s assaults, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression; the abuse she endured intensified her eating disorder and “cemented this issue as one she would suffer from for the rest of her life,” the document stated.
Kryhoski’s suit against the hospital was filed under New York’s Child Victims Act 2-year look-back window, which permits survivors of child abuse to pursue legal actions for claims that have fallen outside the statute of limitations. Due to COVID-19, the closing of this look-back window was extended to August 14.
Believing that there are likely other former patients who endured Silverman’s sexual abuse under NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s watch, Kryhoski and her attorneys hope that any other survivors will come forward with their own stories before the deadline.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital declined to comment for this story.
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