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      Syracuse surgeon accused of slapping and abusing sleeping patients

      Federal investigators say a Syracuse surgeon often slapped anesthetized patients on the buttocks and insulted them before surgery.

      A government investigation claims the orthopedic surgeon, who worked at St. Joseph's Hospital, slapped some of the sedated patients prior to surgery and called them derogatory names.

      According to the report, the behavior went on for at least a year, and the hospital did not have policies in place to addrress abuse.

      The hospital is now facing serious sanctions, and the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office is investigating.

      Kathryn Ruscitto, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center, released the following statement on Sunday afternoon:

      "In late December, we became aware of an incident that involved inappropriate behavior by a physician in our operating rooms. This behavior involved actions and language, which were offensive and did not uphold our mission, vision and values. Our patients, their families, our physicians and support staff deserve the highest level of dignity, compassion and respect in everything we do. Once administration became aware of these issues, prompt action was taken to address them, working closely with our physicians, nursing and support staff, and the Department of Health. Immediate disciplinary actions were taken with the physician and staff involved. These are personnel-related matters which cannot be discussed publicly. I cannot emphasize enough that whenever anyone has concerns about patient care, staff behavior or anything else at St. Joseph's, each of us has a responsibility to bring those concerns forward immediately. We are all accountable for upholding St. Joseph's mission and values."

      The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the doctor slapped patients so hard he sometimes left red marks or hand prints.

      St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center faces sanctions over the issue, including a possible termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

      A complaint filed in January with the state Health Department identifies the doctor as Michael Clarke, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip replacement. The state health department's findings are the basis of the federal report.

      Clarke's lawyer told the newspaper his client denies wrongdoing but won't comment on the investigation.

      (Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)