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Beleaguered surgeon no longer practicing at Hettinger hospital

HETTINGER -- Dr. Robert Gustafson, a former Hettinger surgeon under investigation for sexual abuse of a minor, will no longer be employed by United Clinics Physicians.

HETTINGER -- Dr. Robert Gustafson, a former Hettinger surgeon under investigation for sexual abuse of a minor, will no longer be employed by United Clinics Physicians.

UCP contracted Gustafson for work at West River Health Services for the past two years as its only general surgeon. His contract was recently severed.

“He is no longer employed by UCP and therefore his connection to us has been terminated and we are recruiting,” said Jim Long, the former CEO of West River Health Services who remains at the hospital in an advisory role.

Gustafson’s time at West River Health has been plagued with controversy.

He is under investigation in Oregon for 12 counts of sexual abuse of a girl under the age of 14 over a three-year period from 2009 to 2011.

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In December 2015, while awaiting his Aug. 2 trial in Clatsop County, Oregon, Gustafson violated the terms of his release when he was charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving in Morton County.

Gustafson signed a release agreement with Clatsop County, which states one of the conditions of his release is he would “not use or possess alcohol or controlled substances.” The DUI charge violated those terms. Because of the DUI charge, Gustafson voluntarily admitted himself into an alcohol treatment program.

His trial for those misdemeanors will be Oct. 26 in South Central District Court.

Gustafson had to reapply to continue practicing medicine with United Clinics Physicians after successfully completing the treatment program, but his application was denied.

Now West River Health’s administrators and board are tasked with filling the void that Gustafson has left.

“We know it will be a difficult recruit,” Long said. “General surgery to small rural areas always is, but we are confident we will find a good candidate.”

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