SEATTLE — The Washington Medical Commission has four open investigations into a Seattle psychiatrist who worked for the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for four decades.
On Nov. 1, the KING 5 Investigators reported Dr. Douglas Robinson was never held accountable by L&I, or any other agency that received complaints about the doctor’s behavior, despite a pattern of complaints alleging “inappropriate,” “unprofessional,” and “sexually intrusive” lines of questioning during state-paid exams.
The following day, Nov. 2, three people featured in the news report received letters from the Medical Commission, alerting them that their complaints were being investigated. All three had previously received letters from the Commission saying that their complaints did not rise to the level of scrutiny by their agency.
The Medical Commission is responsible for reviewing, investigating and disciplining doctors in the state.
“After reviewing the issues raised in your (complaint), the (Medical Commission) panel decided not to authorize an investigation,” representatives of the Commission’s Complaints Unit wrote on August 6, 2021, to 70-year-old injured worker Cheryl Riley of Inchelium, Wash. “The Commission has thoroughly considered (your) materials in making their determination.”
The workers, or their legal representatives expressed relief upon receiving the new letters.
“I was really happy to hear that they changed course and reversed their decision and were now going to investigate that man,” Riley said. “I feel like I’m finally being taken seriously. They’re treating me like I’m a person again, and that helps.”
While working for Washington State University (WSU) in 2018, Riley suffered a severe concussion when a 25-pound window shade in a classroom fell on her head. She received worker compensation benefits from L&I. In 2021, L&I ordered her to be examined by Dr. Robinson to assess if she had PTSD stemming from the accident. During the exam, Riley said he “traumatized” her with questions about her sex life.
“He asked me ‘When was the last time you had sexual relations?” Riley said. “I said ‘Well, it’s been a long time. I’ve been divorced for a lot of years.’ And then he got angry. He looked at me really hard and said: ‘When was the last time you had sexual relations with someone?’ And I got scared. I got really scared of him.”
Riley said the experience haunts her still.
“What he did to me still lingers today. I have to mentally work to not think about him and his eyes and what he said. Depression will just wash over me. I think in some part because I felt so helpless and vulnerable just from my head injury and he took advantage of my pain and incapacity,” Riley said.
Dr. Robinson denies all the allegations.
“I strive to be as polite as I can. What (Ms. Riley) is saying is very different from what happened. That did not happen,” Dr. Robinson said. “I have a strict policy that anything pertaining to sex is (off limits). I stay away (from that topic) like the plague. I have never asked anyone intrusive sexual questions.”
Robinson said injured workers and their attorneys are most likely motivated to submit false accusations because they have an incentive to discredit him. As a state-hired medical examiner, he said, workers often don’t like his opinions because they can affect their benefits.
“When some workers read my opinion, they’re angry. (Then) they allege comments about sexual matters,” Robinson said.
Other complaints include an injured worker alleging the doctor asked about her favorite sexual positions. In 2021, an attorney complained that Robinson said he “wasn’t wearing pants,” during a teleconference legal proceeding.
“What (the attorney) alleged is untrue,” Robinson said. “I like to study human nature and I mentioned that an unexpected result of the pandemic is some men say they don’t wear pants on (Zoom) calls. I was musing on that phenomenon.”
In 2022, an injured firefighter submitted a complaint to L&I and the Medical Commission alleging a telehealth medical exam began with a photo of the doctor on the screen without clothes on from the waist up.
Dr. Robinson said unbeknownst to him, the photo was taken earlier in the day and accidently ended up on the screen.
“I was not shirtless during the IME (independent medical exam). I was shirtless when I first sat at the computer more than four hours earlier. I have since changed the (platform’s) settings so this cannot happen again,” wrote Robinson in an April 6, 2022 letter to L&I investigators.
In 2021, L&I’s Civil Rights division conducted an investigation into the complaint from Riley, the worker injured at WSU. Investigators said they “could not substantiate the allegations,” and closed the case. She said that outcome and the WMC choosing to not investigate at all had an adverse effect on her health and self-esteem.
“When they didn’t listen to me at first that really hurt me. They treated me like I was a non-entity,” Riley said. “It took a lot for me to even get up my courage to file a complaint. But then when I got the rejections back, they were pretty much saying it was all me; I was making it up. I was devastated all over again.”
In the letter dated Nov. 2, the Medical Commision told Riley her investigation is “complex” and could take up to 170 days to complete.
“Now, all of the sudden I’m important again. I have a voice again. I have feelings and I’m valuable. And that really matters,” Riley said.
Watch: More KING 5 investigations