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Confessed Sexual Abuser Worked At Local Hospital

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by Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

WINCHESTER, Tenn. -- He confessed to sexually abusing a disabled patient he was paid to take care of, but was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Now, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered the man who confessed to that crime has been working at a local hospital for years, despite being on a list health care providers should check before hiring employees or volunteers.

We found Jimmy Thad Eatherly leaving work at Southern Tennessee Medical Center in Winchester last week.  

The Tennessee Department of Health put him on its Abuse Registry in 2010.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Eatherly, "Should you be working at a hospital if you are on the state Abuse Registry?"

Eatherly did not respond and continued getting into his truck.

Our investigation discovered that Eatherly was arrested in 2007, charged with six counts of rape involving two disabled patients he cared for in their homes in Lincoln County.  

He signed a confession for county investigators, detailing how he had sex with a man who had the mental capacity of a child, then instructed him "not to tell."

Eatherly's step-daughter, Christy Cramer, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates she had heard about the confession, but had not seen it until we showed her.

"It breaks my heart in two," Cramer said as she reviewed the written confession.

She says Eatherly should be in jail, not working in a hospital.

"Please take him off the streets.  Take him and put him somewhere else, because he doesn't need to work in our hospitals.  He doesn't need to work with our disabled," Cramer said.

Despite the confession, Eatherly was never convicted. 

State doctors said he was "not competent to stand trial."  

But the doctors also said he should not be put in a mental institution.

In 2009, a judge "removed the case from the court's active docket,"  and Eatherly was a free man.

"He's competent enough to stand trial," Cramer said.  "He's got common sense.  He's not ignorant."

The Tennessee Department of Health learned about the case from another state agency and put Eatherly on its Abuse Registry.

But Eatherly was already working at the hospital when he was put on the registry.

Southern Tennessee Medical Center is in neighboring Franklin County. 

It apparently hired Eatherly around the same time court appointed doctors were concluding he was not competent to stand trial.

Eatherly's family says he initially served food at the hospital, but moved to cleaning rooms.

"He doesn't need to be in a hospital," Christy Cramer said. "He doesn't need to be around patients that cannot speak or talk verbally."

The CEO at Southern Tennessee Medical Center wouldn't talk to us on camera, but after our questions he sent us a statement.

"We have fully investigated the matter, and this individual is no longer employed at the hospital," CEO Phil Young said in the statement.

It means Eatherly won't be back to work at the hospital, but for Christy Cramer there's a bigger issue.

"I want to know where the justice is in this," Cramer asked.  "It's not fair.  It's not fair to anybody, any family."

Prosecutors say Eatherly's case was unusual and frustrating.

They claim their hands were tied when the state's own doctors said Eatherly was not competent to stand trial.  

At this time, they see no way to prosecute.

The hospital sent a second statement saying Eatherly was never involved in direct patient care and when they learned about the situation they took quick action.

That statement reads: 

"Southern Tennessee Medical Center takes our hiring very seriously. Prior to working at the hospital, every applicant must pass a thorough pre-employment screening, which includes but is not limited to background checks, drug screenings and reference checks, in accordance with Federal and State law.

"We first learned about the situation with an employee on the afternoon of Friday, February 22. This individual was a non-licensed employee who was not involved in direct patient care. Although the State of Tennessee does not require healthcare facilities to check the Tennessee Abuse Registry when hiring employees who are not involved in direct patient care, Southern Tennessee Medical Center checks this for every new hire. This individual was not listed on the abuse registry at the time the background check was performed.

"When we were made aware of the situation, we acted immediately and independently verified the facts. This individual's employment ended Saturday, February 23."

Email: bhall@newschannel5.com

Read Jimmy Thad Eatherly's confession

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