EBENSBURG – Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of a former Johnstown pediatrician gathered at the Cambria County Courthouse Wednesday to support five individuals who have filed civil action against Dr. Johnnie "Jack" Barto, Conemaugh Health System and Laurel Pediatrics.
Sarah Klein, an attorney for Dalton & Associates of Delaware and the first known survivor of former Olympic gymnastic team doctor Larry Nassar, said the Barto survivors in the lawsuit will remain anonymous. The complaint filed Tuesday afternoon in the Cambria County Prothonotary's Office identifies them as John or Jane Doe.
The lawsuit focuses on the health care providers that failed to supervise Barto, according to Klein and fellow attorney Andrew Dalton.
"The institutions that allowed his abuse to continue for decades must be held accountable," Klein said.
"The lawsuit focuses on how he could have had access to children for so long with so many red flags," Dalton added.
The five individuals named in the lawsuit accuse Barto, Conemaugh and Laurel Pediatrics of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, misrepresentation, civil conspiracy to endanger children and other counts.
One woman identified as Jane Doe said she was 16 when Barto abused her during a routine checkup in 2007.
Her parents complained to a Laurel Pediatrics’ physician and demanded a meeting, the lawsuit alleges.
“During that meeting, with Barto present, the office manager and ... the nurse practitioner, disregarded or otherwise ignored the complaints made by (victim’s) parents, claiming that Barto’s behavior merely showed that Barto was ‘thorough,’ and that her parents ‘would be singing (Barto’s) praises if he had discovered a (breast) lump,’ ” the lawsuit says.
The mother of two patients also complained to Laurel Pediatrics after her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son both said Barto molested them during exams in 2016, according to the lawsuit.
The mother said Barto performed full-body physicals in which her children were molested and, afterwards, asked to speak with their regular pediatrician about both incidents.
“(The second doctor) confirmed that she had been informed previously about Barto’s inappropriate conduct with children,” the lawsuit states.
“She then assured (victim’s) mother that they would speak with him again about his ‘odd bedside manner.’ ”
Klein and Dalton declined to comment Wednesday on why Laurel Pediatrics employees mentioned by name in the lawsuit are not defendants in the filing.
Lawyers from Delaware-based Dalton & Associates accuse Conemaugh and Laurel Pediatrics officials of attempting “to protect their reputations rather than protecting children.”
“When reports about Barto sexually abusing children were initially made, the reports were largely ignored, resulting in an insufficient investigation by Laurel Pediatrics and Conemaugh to ascertain if Barto had other victims of sexual misconduct, or continued his abuse,” the lawsuit says.
Attorneys for the victims of Barto said these failures occurred after Barto’s medical license was reinstated in 2000, following the investigation of sexual abuse allegations in the late 1990s.
Emily Korns, director of marketing communications for Conemaugh Health System, issued a statement Wednesday.
"The actions of Dr. Barto, an independent physician not employed by DLP Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, are reprehensible," the statement says. "That said, we dispute any allegations of wrongdoing on the part of DLP Conemaugh Memorial, which are outlined in the complaint. Also, to clarify, the entity that Dr. Barto was associated with, Laurel Pediatrics, is an independently-owned practice."
"Providing safe, quality care is our top priority, and Conemaugh Memorial continues to be committed to providing the best possible experience to the patients we serve," the statement adds.
Contacted Tuesday, Laurel Pediatrics declined to provide a comment about the litigation.
Erika Brosig, a Barto survivor who is now a trauma therapist at Victim Services Inc., attended Wednesday's press conference among several others who were abused by Barto to show support for the anonymous lawsuit plaintiffs.
"We stand in support of the brave young women and men who are seeking justice," she said.
Brooke Rush, a Barto survivor whose case was past the statute of limitations for criminal charges, said the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit are not seeking monetary gain, but accountability.
"No amount of money will make this go away," Rush said.
Several of the survivors present said their parents also filed unanswered complaints concerning Barto, including Amanda Dorich.
"His life of serial pedophilia could have ended decades ago, but it didn't," she said.
Sherry Kinsey's complaints concerning Barto's abuse of her daughters, Ann Plummer and Ashley Kranowski, were brushed off, she said, due to a lack of evidence.
"You've got your evidence now, right?" she said.
"The staff at the time of our abuse ignored our cries for help," Kranowski said.
"Our hope is that it never takes as long as this has for our voices to be heard," Plummer added.
A group of Barto survivors, their family and friends planned to travel to the Capitol Building in Harrisburg following the press conference to raise awareness and support for a change to the statute of limitations for other survivors of sexual abuse.
"Every single day, these laws are failing sexual abuse survivors," said Emilee Henn, another Barto survivor.
Jennifer Goetz is a Barto survivor who said her case was outside of the statute of limitations by the time she was 14.
"Age should not be a deciding factor in seeking justice," she said.
Barto, 71, was sentenced to in March to no less than 79 years and up to 158 years behind bars in state prison for charges related to 31 victims of sexual abuse, which included both young family members and young patients.
He is currently housed at SCI-Camp Hill.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office first charged Barto in January 2018 based on allegations he inappropriately touched a 12-year-old patient in December 2017 at Laurel Pediatrics in Richland Township.
Barto was subsequently charged in March, April and July of last year based on allegations from 31 other young family members or patients.
Collectively, Barto’s charges included involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors.
In December, Barto pleaded guilty in two cases involving allegations from family members, but entered no-contest pleas for accusations of abuse from former patients.
Barto’s medical license has been suspended since Jan. 22, 2018.
The Tribune-Democrat first reported in 1998 that Barto was accused of inappropriately touching three girls – ages 3, 4 and 13 – during office visits at Johnstown Pediatrics over a period of four years.
The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine’s order restoring Barto’s license in 2000 provided a history of those accusations, but highlighted Barto’s “positive reputation in the community as a physician and community member.”