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Influential Doctor Accused in Sex Case

Medicine: State seeks action against AIDS activist R. Scott Hitt, saying he molested two patients.


Dr. R. Scott Hitt, a prominent AIDS specialist, gay activist and former chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS and HIV, has been accused by state regulators of sexually molesting two patients at a Beverly Hills medical office.

Hitt, the first openly gay person to head a presidential advisory body, acknowledged having touched one patient's genitalia in August 2000 and "crossing a boundary" with one other patient in July of that year, according to a formal accusation filed by the Medical Board of California, which regulates physicians.

Both alleged molestations occurred at the Pacific Oaks Medical Group in Beverly Hills, one of the nation's largest private AIDS practices.

The accusation asks that Hitt's medical license be revoked or suspended or that other actions be taken as deemed appropriate by the board.

In the accusation, the state medical board said that Hitt, 43, made his admissions after a complaint was filed about the August 2000 incident. It was not clear who complained.

Hitt said the patient in the July incident "started to come on" to him, according to the accusation. The patients, both male, are not named in the accusation.

In an interview Wednesday, Hitt acknowledged doing "things I regret" while under physical and psychological stress brought on by a battle with cancer.

"In July of 1999, my life fell apart. I was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. My odds of recovery were very slim," Hitt said.

While undergoing three surgeries in 45 days as well as chemotherapy, he said, "my judgment was impaired."

The cancer is now in remission, he said.

After the incidents two years ago, he said, he left his practice and checked into a "rehabilitation and recovery program," which he declined to describe further. "I am proud of the progress of that recovery since then. I have not seen any patients since the accusation was made."

Hitt practiced internal medicine and was a partner at Pacific Oaks until his resignation in 2000. Since then, he has been serving as president of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, an independent organization of HIV specialists.

The medical board charges that Hitt's behavior was "grossly negligent," that he was incompetent in his care and treatment of the two patients, and that he committed "dishonest and corrupt acts."

"The accusation speaks for itself," said Henry Fenton, the Los Angeles attorney who represents the Pacific Oaks medical practice. "This is a very sad story. The biggest concern is the former patients."

Fenton said that "as soon as suspicion arose with Dr. Hitt, he agreed to stop seeing any patients at Pacific Oaks and the practice conducted its own investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, he resigned and the fruits of the investigation were turned over by Pacific Oaks to the medical board."

In such cases, doctors can either agree to some type of discipline or take the case to a hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge makes a recommendation on the case, but the final disciplinary action, if any, is decided by the medical board.

Active in politics at the local and national levels, Hitt was an ardent supporter of Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign.

Three years later, Clinton named Hitt to head the influential AIDS panel, a 30-member body intended to advise the president on how to fight the epidemic. Within Hitt's first six weeks at the helm, the council issued eight recommendations that Clinton immediately put into effect, including convening a White House conference on the deadly disorder.

But, according to Michael Weinstein, head of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest HIV medical provider in the U.S., even as a Clinton appointee, Hitt "nevertheless was quite critical" of the president on issues of needle exchange and HIV prevention. "He certainly didn't rubber-stamp Clinton."

In 1997, the panel questioned the Clinton administration's commitment to fighting AIDS and said that the federal-state Medicaid program wasn't doing enough to cover all poor people with HIV.

In a 1998 resolution, the panel said the administration should back the use of federal funds to provide addicts with clean needles.

The administration's refusal to do so "threatens the public health, and directly contradicts current scientific evidence," the panel said.

Hitt stepped down in 1999 because of his illness.

Weinstein said he was saddened to hear of Hitt's current difficulties.

"It would be tragic if it undid all of the good work that he's done."

Weinstein also praised Hitt's continued work with the American Academy of HIV Medicine, where "he is championing a very important issue, which is that HIV patients can see qualified providers."

Others who know Hitt expressed sadness as well.

"It would be a terrible shame if this is what he is remembered for," said Martin Delaney, the founder of Project Inform in San Francisco, a nationally known AIDS treatment information and advocacy agency. "Whatever misdeeds he committed have to be weighed against the good that he has done and continues to do. He's an important member of our community."

In 1991, the medical board investigated a complaint alleging that Hitt breached patient confidentiality by telephoning a colleague's patient to seek support for a political candidate. The board eventually cleared him of any wrongdoing.

A native of Tucson, Hitt graduated from the University of Arizona School of Medicine. He came to Los Angeles for his medical residency and joined Pacific Oaks in 1988.

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