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Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)

February 7, 1997 Friday

CONTROVERSIAL PSYCHIATRIST IS SUSPENDED;
DIANE HUMENANSKY WAS SUED IN FAMOUS ‘FALSE MEMORY’ CASES

BYLINE: Tom Majeski, Staff Writer

SECTION: MAIN; Pg. 1B

LENGTH: 684 words

Diane Bay Humenansky, the controversial St. Paul psychiatrist who was successfully sued by two former patients for planting false memories during therapy sessions, has had her medical license suspended for at least three years, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice announced Thursday.
Humenansky, 61, was disciplined for unprofessional and unethical conduct and because of her inability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of illness, the board said.
“I’m so relieved they finally took action against her,” said Vynnette Hamanne, a former patient who won a $2.4 million jury award in a landmark case against Humenansky. “It will take a long time to get over the damage she caused me and my family. We’re nowhere near over it.”
Humenansky could not be reached for comment. But her attorney, Philip Villaume of Minneapolis, said the board’s decision was good news.
“Given the atmosphere out there, the climate and the kind of work she was doing, it could have been much worse,” he said. For instance, the board could have revoked her license, he said.
According to Villaume, Humenansky ran into legal trouble because she was working with difficult cases involving repressed memory and sexual abuse.
“She is a very courageous individual who has done some very difficult work and, in my opinion, done it very well,” he said.
In an October letter to the board, Humenansky denied any wrongdoing and indicated that she was a victim who has been “harassed, harried, tormented and abused by the Minnesota board for the better part of five years.”
She also blamed the numerous complaints and civil lawsuits that have been filed against her on the “perpetrators of childhood sexual assault.”
Several weeks later, during a prehearing conference, Humenansky denied the board’s concerns of mental instability but said she did not wish to go through the rigors of a contested case. A few days later, she entered a plea of no contest to the board’s charges.
In August 1995, a Ramsey County jury awarded more than $2.4 million to Hamanne, who accused the psychiatrist of implanting in her mind false memories of bizarre childhood sexual abuse.
The case, the first of its kind, attracted nationwide attention. During the trial, Hamanne testified that Humenansky forced her to believe that, as a child, she had seen her grandmother stirring a cauldron of dead babies. She also testified that Humenansky claimed that she also had been sexually abused by family members who had been part of a satanic cult.
In January 1996, after one of the longest psychiatric malpractice trials in American judicial history, a Ramsey County jury awarded more than $2 million to another of Humenansky’s patients, Elizabeth Carlson of St. Paul, who alleged similar improper treatment involving repressed memories.
Then in June 1996, Humenansky’s insurance company reached out-of-court settlements with four former patients who also accused the psychiatrist of implanting false memories. Four other cases are pending against her.
In its order, the board said that Humenansky may not petition for removal of the suspension for at least three years, and then only after she:
*submits to a mental health evaluation by a board-approved evaluator.
*participates in individual psychotherapy by an approved licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, who must then verify that she is “fit and capable” of practicing medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients.
*pay the board $5,000 to cover part of its investigation costs.
Villaume said that Humenansky will comply with the board’s order and that he expects her medical license will be re-instated after three years.
Hamanne said she was treated by Humenansky for four years after choosing her name from a phone book. During the treatment, court records show, Humenansky kept her locked in a psychiatric unit for two months while trying to convince her that her parents had murdered children Hamanne never remembered bearing.
“It’s a real relief,” Hamanne said of Humenansky’s suspension.