Canton Repository

April 12, 2005

Regula could investigate claims of harassment at medical agency

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Though unaware of any alleged sexual harassment or lax safety attitudes at the National Institutes of Health, Rep. Ralph Regula said he would consider looking into the claims.

“It’s totally news to me,” Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said Monday after reports of the allegations surfaced in an Associated Press story.

Several employees of the NIH, the nation’s premier medical-research agency, have alleged in connection with a lawsuit filed by one of the employees that the agency ignored safety concerns involving patients participating in multimillion-dollar AIDS research trials.

In another complaint, some female employees said they were subjected to unwanted hugs, kisses or catcalls, AP reported.

“I haven’t heard anything of this,” Regula said. “Nobody’s made any allegations from where I stand.”

As chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles the NIH’s budget, Regula has some authority to oversee the agency.

The allegations first emerged last year when NIH employee Jonathan Fishbein filed a lawsuit charging he was being forced out of the agency because of concerns he raised about patient safety and scientific procedures.

Both the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department and the Senate Finance Committee are looking into some of the complaints.

Regula said he would consider holding a hearing on the allegations if warranted. But he cautioned, “You can’t be too quick to pass judgment because sometimes disgruntled employees have their own agenda.”

Though he is “fairly comfortable” with the way the agency is run, Regula said in such a large organization, “there’s going to be some glitches.”