Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Last month, an Ohio doctor was charged with killing at least 25 of his patients administering lethal levels of the powerful opioid fentanyl. After four years of intentionally drugging his patients, murderous doctor’s killing spree finally ended late last year when a pharmacist finally alert hospital authorities. After an internal inquiry, the hospital deemed the deaths of 35 Dr. William Husel’s patient’s “suspicious.” Now, patients told that their loved ones died of natural causes are furious at the doctor and the hospital for allowing the doctor’s murder spree to continue for so long.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Husel began prescribing lethal amounts of fentanyl to patients at least four years ago. Typically, the doctor would prescribe these deadly doses to patients unlikely to survive anyway. As an acute care doctor who worked the overnight shift, prosecutors say he frequently worked with “new nurses” who may have lacked the experience or bravery to challenge the doctor’s prescribing habits. According to interviews with hospital authorities, the pharmacists also proved complicit in the overdoses by overriding hospital protocols which specifically warned about the likelihood of death caused by a massive fentanyl dose. Amazingly, prosecutors say they will not charge any other hospital staffers in the deaths although some have lost their jobs and nursing licenses.

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More than eighty patients filed suit against a California women’s hospital for allegedly filming them while undressed and receiving medical care. These women claim that the secretly recorded footage includes them in stirrups receiving intimate medical procedures, sterilizations, and dilation and curettages after miscarriages, according to The Washington Post. The secret recordings took place over an 11-month period and could include up to 1,800 patients.

In response to the allegations, Sharp Grossmont Hospital concedes that computer monitors with “motion-activated cameras” were in three different operating rooms at the hospital during the time period. The hospital said the cameras were angled towards the “medication carts” and part of an investigation into missing narcotics at the hospital. While these “motion-activated” cameras were activated when sensing motion, they continued to record for long periods of time. This resulted in many patients have sensitive and personal medical procedures recorded without their permission. According to the lawsuit, these recordings showed patients “conscious and unconscious, partially robed on operating room tables, undergoing medical procedures and communicating with their doctors and medical personnel.”

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The FDA has quietly expanded a so-called “exemption database” allowing medical device manufacturers to shield the injuries and fatalities attributed to their devices from public scrutiny. According to a recent article in Kaiser Health News, the number of malfunctioning devices submitted as an “alternative summary report” not available to the public numbered between 431,000 and 481,000 in the last three years. According to the FDA, the alternative database originated two decades ago to prevent medical device makers from reporting the same injuries multiple times. However, since its inception the exemption database has grown exponentially and, no longer providing clarity and efficiency, now assists in concealing harmful devices from public scrutiny. The FDA declined to provide Kaiser Health News with a list of exempt devices, although the federal agency did say the number of devices was “over 100.”

This development is unfortunate for doctors and patients who rely on public information about medical devices to make their health care decisions. Surgical staplers provide a good example of how the FDA’s alternative database harms patients. Surgical staplers are “designed to cut and seal tissues or vessels quickly,” according to the health news organization. These staplers also commonly malfunction, between 1994 and 2001 malfunctioning staplers reportedly caused 112 deaths in the country. In 2001, the medical manufacturers of these surgical staplers received an “exemption” from the FDA, which meant the majority of the injuries and fatalities caused by these devices would no longer show up in the public database. In 2011, the total number of injuries and fatalities attributed to surgical staplers was only 18. In 2017, the FDA removed the device from the exemption list and the number of reports skyrocketed to 79.

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New York City amended its opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals to include the company’s owners, the Sackler family, as well as several retailers and pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart. The lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of OxyContin, deceptively marketed their addictive drugs under the direction of their owners, the Sackler family, and the retailers who dispensed the drugs enabled the opioid epidemic currently ravaging communities across the country. In addition to increasing the number of defendants allegedly responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic, the lawsuit also consolidated dozens of lawsuits filed by other local governments.

The consolidation of lawsuits and inclusion of the popular drugstores was widely expected, the group of defendants is being sued by local governments across the country and by the federal government. The inclusion of the Sackler family, on the other hand, was a recent development in the opioid cases. According to The New York Times, a lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts unearthed emails showing members of the Sackler family were “far more involved” than previously believed. According to the lawsuits against the company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals deceptively marketed Oxycontin, a powerful and addictive opioid, as appropriate for long-term pain management and claiming, without evidence, that “less than one percent of [Oxycontin users] become addicted.” The aggressive promotion of Oxycontin led to $1 billion in annual sales within a few years and is now widely understood to have ignited the country’s opioid epidemic.

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Citing increased patient care, nurses at New York’s three biggest hospital systems are demanding a sharp increase in nursing staff. The group of nurses – 10,000 strong, according to The New York Times – say they are unable to fulfill their responsibilities and provide optimal care to each patient because there are not enough nurses on staff at Mount Sinai, New York-Presbyterian and Montefiore. The union representing the nurses in their negotiations with the hospitals, the New York State Nurses Association, say they are prepared to strike if their demands are not satisfied.

Speaking to The New York Times, Shanna Murphy, a neonatal nurse, said: “I’m often put in a situation where I’m having to choose between patients and not able to fully support my families.” This leads to what Murphy described as “drive-by nursing” where she does not have time to “actually sit with our patients and spend time with our patients and families.” Other nurses agree and cite a 2002 study directly linking patient care to the number of nurses on staff. Published by the Journal of American Medical Association, the research paper found that for every additional nurse the risk of patient fatality reduced by 7 percent.

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A recent study by The Doctors Company found that misdiagnosis is the top allegation in medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country that involve children. The researchers conducting the study said “misdiagnosis” included missed, failed or the wrong diagnosis and were largely the result of inadequate medical examinations, according to Fierce Healthcare. The study conducted by a non-profit doctors group involved reviewing over 1,200 medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country through 2008 and 2017.

The report also illuminated several prominent trends in medical malpractice lawsuits. For example, poor communication was cited as a factor causing the child’s injury in 15 and 22 percent of the lawsuits. Systemic failures were also a common factor. Systemic failures typically meant not notifying patients of important test results, according to the online news agency.

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Once named one of ‘America’s Most Beautiful Physicians’, a New York doctor is now being hauled into court by former patients who say they lost his medical records and over-prescribed powerful pain medications, among several other allegations. Reported by NBC New York, cardiovascular surgeon David Gruener has recently come under scrutiny by government regulators and patients who describe less-than-competent experiences with the media-darling doctor. Despite allegations of overprescribing opioid medications, the doctor’s record is currently unblemished. The lawsuits against the doctor will likely change his spotless record soon, though.

The allegations against the doctor began surfacing when one of his former patients blamed him for an opioid addiction that became a $7,000-per-day habit. According to the patient, Dr. Gruener prescribed hundreds of Demerol shots and other opioids during 2011 and 2012. The surgeon prescribed all of this medication despite “clear signs of addiction” in, what the patient is alleging, a “clearly fraudulent scheme” to keep him addicted and the income flowing freely to his doctor. In the course of litigating his lawsuit against the doctor, the patient sought his own personal medical records. Unfortunately, the doctor could not produce these medical records, along with those of any other patients before 2012.

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The New York Medical Board is slow to punish doctors who lose their license to practice in other states. According to The New York Post, the state licensing board for doctors took between “a few weeks to several months” to stop 14 doctors who had lost their ability to practice medicine in New Jersey over the last six months. Perhaps even more worrisome, the local newspaper found that two of those doctors were still practicing medicine despite being deemed unfit to practice just across the river. New Jersey did not perform much better at ensuring potentially dangerous doctors stayed away from the state’s patients – five doctors with their New York licenses suspended in the last six months were still practicing in the state.

Perhaps overstating the obvious, Patient-safety advocate Betsy McCaughey told The Post that licensing board’s slow movement on incompetent doctors “could lead to unnecessary additional harm to patients.” The founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths then harped on the unnecessary risk to patients by stating “all you have to do is send an email.” McCaughey correctly notes that the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners receives a daily alert for doctors whose license has been suspended or permanently revoked. With this information delivered each day, it is not unreasonable to expect a prompt investigation.

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New York City spent approximately $1 billion settling tort lawsuits last year. According to the Wall Street Journal, this hefty sum actually represents an 8 percent decrease from the previous year. Tort claims include most personal injury lawsuits, such as slip-and-fall accidents, motor-vehicle damages, and medical malpractice lawsuits.

The decrease is largely driven by a small number of settlements against the New York Police Department. The newspaper reports that settlements against the NYPD reached only $230 million. Last year, settlements against the police were approximately $336 million. Despite the almost one-third decrease, the NYPD is still the most expensive city agency when it comes to settling lawsuits. According to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, the Department of Transportation, Department of Correction, Department of Sanitation, and the Department of Education round out the top five most expensive agencies when it comes to personal injury and tort lawsuits.

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The federal government opened a probe into a hospital run by the Department of Veteran Affairs. According to the New York Daily News, the federal probe is a response to a veteran’s allegations of neglect, medical malpractice, and elder abuse. The local newspaper describes the experience of Gary Zambito, who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War. During his military service, Zambito suffered an injury which led to health complications for the next fifty years. While he trusted the VA to look after his care, Zambito describes a nightmare of incompetence and fraud. Zambito says the care provided by the VA was so insufficient that it “nearly killed” him. After suing the government for $4 million, the federal government opened a probe into the nursing home and hospitals for criminal malfeasance.

According to the veteran, he sought help from his local VA hospital on Long Island back in 2015 when he started experiencing “dizzy spells” that would commonly end in blackouts. Zambito says he told doctors that being knocked unconscious in the Vietnam War led to heart problems – specifically, an irregular and rapid heart rate. Despite this knowledge, doctors did not seem interested in drawing the connection between Zambito’s fainting spells and his heart condition. After being told that there was nothing the doctors could do to help him, Zambito spent the next three years simply enduring the dizzy spells and fainting. According to his attorney, the veteran fell and injured himself 18 times over the next 14 months. Finally, he went to a private doctor who prescribed the drug Flecainide Acetate, which eliminated the fainting problem immediately.

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