Albany woman files lawsuit against her former psychiatrist
An Albany woman battling a drug addiction said her fight for sobriety was nearly derailed by an angry and abusive psychiatrist. Now Dawn McGrath is suing the doctor and St. Peter’s, where she said the abuse took place.
McGrath says she is a shadow of her former self. She summoned the courage to kick her addiction in 2017, but said she never thought the place she turned for help would turn against her.
When McGrath pours over old photographs, she yearns to have her life back.
“I look up, and I see what my life used to be and what I use to look like and places I used to go,” she said. “That’s what my life is now. Looking at pictures of what my life used to be because this psychiatrist decided he didn’t care about me, what he said or what it would do to me.”
The psychiatrist was Clarence White, a “locum tenens” or independent contractor at St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center.
McGrath turned to SPARC in December 2017 looking for help and support to stay clean after battling her fentanyl addiction.
“They were amazing. They were my family. They had to be my family. They had to become my new family,” she said.
“I was so concentrated on my sobriety. It took everything,” she said. “It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to go to St. Peter’s and do my appointments.’ It wasn’t like that. Sobriety doesn’t work like that. Sobriety is a 24-hour job.”
McGrath was initially at St. Peter’s every day, but she said a revolving door of psychiatrists left her with a doctor who seemed constantly distracted and disinterested in her sessions.
“I said to them, ‘Can I get a different psychiatrist,'” she recalled, “and they said, ‘Well, yeah, he’s leaving anyway. So you’re going to be seeing Dr. White.’ I said, ‘Great, tell me a little bit about him.'”
McGrath was hoping for a new start — a change from what she says was SPARC’s constantly rescheduled appointments and long stretches in the waiting room.
Between her job, the drive time to her appointments, and her sessions, time was precious. After waiting 45 minutes waiting for her first meeting with White, she approached the receptionist to reschedule. That’s when the doctor finally appeared.
“He goes, ‘Are you rescheduling?’ I go, ‘Yes. You’re 45 minutes late. I have to go.’ That’s when he said, ‘What does somebody like you have to do with their time?’ That was the first time that I had realized, or what I thought, this is what people would think about me for the rest of my life,” McGrath said. “He was basically saying, ‘You’re a drug addict, what do you have to do with your life?’ I was in shock because I’m realizing, ‘Oh, God. If my psychiatrist thinks I’m nothing, is this it?’ So I left.”
With emotions spilling over, McGrath ran to her car and called back into the office. The receptionist convinced her to return to the building and speak with her counselors, claiming White had left for the day. So she did.
“I look up and there he is, walking toward me. So I put my head back down, and he goes, ‘Seriously, over a couple of minutes?’ and go, ‘Dude, just stop. It was more than a couple of minutes. You’re outrageous,'” McGrath said of the incident.
“‘What does a junkie like you have to do with your time?'” White allegedly said to McGrath. “I just look at him and said you’re a f******g a*****e, and I kept walking.”
McGrath says White then followed her down the long hallway.
“I’m starting to walk fast now, and he was right on my heels, calling me every name,” she said, “telling me to F-myself. I’m a F’ing loser, I’m a F’ing junkie. Who do I think I am?”
McGrath finally races back into the office, but the alleged abuse continued.
The situation was getting more and more volatile, yet another worker behind the front desk refused to even make eye contact with her.
“Then I said, ‘Look.’ She turned as [White’s] standing there, and I said, ‘Don’t look away from me. Please,'” McGrath explained. “I’m talking to her, she’s talking to me, and he’s still in my ear berating me.”
“Then he leaned close enough,” she said, “that’s when he’s like, ‘you’re a f****g piece of s**t.'”
McGrath said eyewitness statements were taken immediately, with counselors and others in the room. Then McGrath left.
“I remember one of the girls,” she recalled, “I heard her literally say out loud, ‘I thought he was going to hit her.'”
13 Investigates reached out to White’s attorney, Robin Phalen, a number of times, but so far have not gotten a response.
St. Peter’s transferred White to another SPARC facility right after the confrontation.