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Harford County neurosurgeon’s medical license suspended following sexual harassment investigation

A Harford County neurosurgeon had his medical license suspended after a board of physicians discovered a pattern of sexual harassment that endured for several years, according to documents.

The Maryland Board of Physicians suspended Hugo Benalcazar’s medical license in July after it became aware of behavior including unwanted touching, lewd comments and smacking an anesthetized patient’s butt in an operating room, among other acts, according to documents filed with the board.

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Documents summarizing the board’s investigation and decision do not specify the hospital where Benalcazar worked or who filed complaints against him, but he was listed as the division head of neurosurgery on University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center’s website as of Monday morning. However, his name was removed by Monday afternoon.

Spokesperson for the Bel Air hospital, Martha Mallonee, said commenting Monday on the specifics of Benalcazar’ suspension would be “inappropriate” but that the safety of staff and patients is a high priority. She declined to say if he was still working at the hospital or as the division head of neurosurgery.

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“University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health takes all allegations of concerning actions or behaviors seriously, and follows a strict and thorough investigative process at the hospital level as well as through the University of Maryland Medical System,” she said.

Benalcazar’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the documents, Benalcazar had been licensed to practice medicine since 2000. He had a practice in Bel Air and also held “privileges at four hospitals in the Baltimore metropolitan area,” the report states.

In September of 2020, the board received a complaint from a surgical nurse and former colleague of Benalcazar’s, alleging that he commented on her underwear, physically touched her in an unwelcome way and made lewd comments to her, the documents state. She reported it to the unspecified hospital’s authorities, but it was never acted on.

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According to the board’s investigation, Benalcazar’s behavior went largely unchecked, partially because staff members did not believe complaints against him would be acted upon.

In November, a surgical technologist came forward to file a complaint with the board, saying that Benalcazar would look down her and other colleagues’ shirts and comment on their underwear, the documents state. During Halloween, he would show her pictures of provocative costumes and suggest she wear them.

In 2016, according to the documents, the surgical technologist was pregnant and suffering from severe back pain. Benalcazar offered to examine her and took her to an empty room. He told her to lift her scrub shirt up so he could feel her back better, which she did, and then he told her to pull her pants down. When she did, he commented on her looks and felt her rear, the documents state. She pulled her pants up; he starting giggling; and she left the room.

Benalcazar said that the surgical technologist had asked him to examine her for joint dysfunction, and that she had seemed thankful, not offended, after the exam, the documents state. He also said that his comments to her were not meant to be sexual in nature, the report says.

The surgical tech also said she had seen Benalcazar comment on a female patient’s figure and smack the her butt while the patient was anesthetized and lying facedown on an operating table before a 2017 surgery, the documents state.

“He proceeded to say her butt looked so good I just needed to be smacked,” according to the documents. “And before we knew it, he did it. He smacked her butt. Started giggling.”

When interviewed by the board, Benalcazar denied saying anything inappropriate about the patient’s body or slapping her buttocks. He said he was illustrating that the staff placed a frame in the incorrect position.

Relayed through the surgical technologist, a third person said Benalcazar touched her every time she was with him, and she did not know what to do about it, according to the documents. She said he was “very flirtatious and forward with ‘pretty girls,’” the documents state.

Beyond that, technologist said she heard Benalcazar threaten nurses, saying “all he has to do is say the word and he will have them fired,” the documents state. She was afraid to report him and requested to be moved to a different schedule.

“She believed that her supervisors knew the reason that she wanted to change because she had told them many times before about how uncomfortable she was,” the documents state. ”But they would never ask why.”

According to the documents, Benalcazar also repeatedly phoned an operating room secretary — who sat close by him — to tell her to come sit on his lap. In one instance he denied before the board, he grabbed her, pulled her into an office and tried to get her to sit on his lap or touch him, the documents state.

In another, he followed her to her car, yelling her name, the report says. She called security so she could hide in her car for a few minutes.

In a second interview with the board, Benalcazar said he and that operating room secretary began a romantic relationship outside of work, but ended it when she demanded money from him, the documents state.

Other interviews with current and former staff corroborated Benalcazar’s reputation for being touchy with staff and making inappropriate comments, the documents state. Many of the staff were reluctant to work with him, the documents state, and some told co-workers to not leave them alone with him.

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