Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ten years on

Answers For Lisa:
 the first decade

Today this blog reaches a milestone.  It was 10 years ago – on Aug. 28, 2004 – that the first item was posted here.  The headline was “Why did Lisa die?

By David Baker
Posted August 28, 2014
2,876 words

For the first four years, the blog chronicled my efforts to answer that question.  It described my request to the state Department of Health for an investigation, and the decision by the department seven months later in a single paragraph that said hospital staff had not departed from the standard of care when Lisa’s blood glucose level dropped to the 2 mg/dL recorded in her chart.  The blog reported on my two lawsuits against defendants who were involved in Lisa’s care at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, N.Y.  in November 2003.  Later it described how my attorney, Cynthia LaFave, abandoned the case without telling me, ignoring 12 discovery demands served by Samaritan’s lawyers over seven months that I learned of only after I became concerned and checked the case file at the county clerk’s office on the day the hospital’s motion to compel a response from LaFave was due to be heard.

Later posts described my attempts to find another attorney while I fought the hospital’s request to the court to throw out the lawsuit, and how the high-profile Albany lawyer Stephen Coffey of O’Connell & Aronowitz called me and offered to review the case that his firm had earlier declined – and then, in what can only be seen as a brazen attempt to get my case tossed out, stated in writing that the firm had asked the court for a delay of the hospital’s motion to dismiss when, as he later admitted, no such request had been made. The case was not dismissed – but only because, against the urging of Coffey’s associate, Brendan Tully, I filed my own affidavit opposing the hospital’s motion. The judge then ordered me to pay $100 to each of the three defense law firms toward their costs of motions they had filed because Coffey had not notified them as instructed by the court.  Coffey stated in writing that he would reimburse me this money but he did not do so until I obtained a judgment against him in small claims court.

Subsequent posts described my complaint about Coffey to the Committee on Professional Standards, and how the committee allowed me to see  – but not receive a copy of – Coffey’s response only after I had written to a judge on the Appellate Division, of which the committee is a part. Among several false statements Coffey made to the committee in a letter he evidently had been assured I would never see was that his firm did not and had never represented Samaritan Hospital.  The letter was dated one day after the firm filed a lawsuit against the state Health Department on behalf of several plaintiffs – one of them Samaritan Hospital.

That and much more was dismissed out of hand by the committee staff member, who allowed me to read Coffey’s letter but not touch it or take any notes.  Later I went back to the committee’s offices to view a letter from Brendan Tully, Coffey’s associate at O’Connell & Aronowitz, which the committee had neglected to tell me it had.  Again, the same staff member blindly defended Coffey and the firm even as it became apparent that he hadn’t bothered to read the file. This time I had a small digital recorder in a pocket and a microphone under a sleeve and I recorded the entire conversation.

Many weeks later I received a letter from the committee, which said it had found no wrongdoing in Coffey actions.  The wording was almost identical to the one I had earlier received in response to my complaint about Cynthia LaFave.

After the Health Department’s ruling that Samaritan Hospital’s care had not violated any state regulation I wrote to the chairmen of the health committees in the Assembly and Senate, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Kemp Hannon, describing what had happened to Lisa and suggesting that their committees examine what appeared to be grossly inadequate regulations.  I also asked if they could obtain the full report on the health department’s investigation of Lisa’s care, which the department had repeatedly refused to provide to me.

It took several months to get any response from either man.  A member of Hannon’s staff told me each time I called that someone would get back to me, but no one did.  Then, when I pointed out to her that she had been saying that for almost a year, Hannon told New York Post state editor Fred Dicker – who had mentioned my attempts to get Hannon’s attention on his radio show – that I had been rude to his staff.  Dicker evidently believed it and dropped the matter.

I never did hear from Hannon, which might be because while chairman of the Senate Health Committee he had received almost a million dollars in campaign contributions, most of it from health care interests and some of it directly from Northeast Health Inc., the company that operates Samaritan Hospital.

Gottfried, who also had been mentioned by Dicker, eventually did try to help.  He wrote to then-Commissioner of Health Antonia Novello, asking for a copy of the department’s report.  Novello refused to give it to him and Gottfried, while acknowledging that I might not find it satisfactory, wrote in a letter to me that he would take it no further.

Meanwhile, on a Sunday in September 2004 I had become aware of something that was to take a considerable amount of my time and attention over the following 10 years. I was reading the Albany Sunday Times Union when I noticed that there were several advertisements for Northeast Health, which in addition to Samaritan Hospital, operates Albany Memorial Hospital and several nursing homes, assisted-living centers, rehabilitation facilities and clinics.  Each ad was a quarter-page. There were four of them in that one issue.  And then I realized that I couldn’t remember when I had last seen a story about a lawsuit against Samaritan or any other hospital in the area.  A search of the newspaper’s online archive showed why this was;  there hadn’t been any such stories in the previous five years.  I wondered how the paper’s editor, Rex Smith, and its then-publisher, David White, would explain this so I wrote to them.  Neither of them even acknowledged the letter.

With LaFave gone and no attorney willing to take over my lawsuit, I became what the British call a litigant in person.  I responded to seemingly endless discovery demands from the three law firms representing the defendants, sat for a deposition and deposed a nurse and a doctor.  I asked the judge to compel Samaritan to produce key pages missing from Lisa’s medical chart.  But despite evidence that the documents existed, state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Ferradino refused to grant the order.  Later, Samaritan’s lawyer, Kathleen Ryan, said that the hospital was willing to settle.  But she said that the insurance carrier wanted a final review before making an offer.  I waited; weeks went by.  Finally, during a hearing in Ferradino’s chambers, Ryan offered $25,000.

The medical bills for the three weeks Lisa was in a coma in the ICU from when she was injured to when she died came to $81,000, of which Samaritan had received $74,000.  Even if Medicare had settled for only a third of that, the remainder after deducting the fee and costs that LaFave wanted wouldn’t even have paid for the funeral.  I turned it down.  And soon the reason for the long wait for an offer became clear; it was so that a doctor at Albany Medical Center Hospital, Matthew Leinung, could put his name to an affidavit supporting Samaritan’s motion.  One of his statements was that failing to treat hypoglycemia with not just quick-acting glucose, such as orange juice or dextrose via and IV, but then with a longer-acting carbohydrate – crackers, bread, etc. – was not a departure from the standard of care – even though that is the universally accepted treatment.  It was spelled out on the Web page of the American Diabetes Association – of which Leinung then, and as recently as 2013, was an active member.

Leinung also appears to be a coward; his resume, a copy of which was submitted to the court, said nothing about the 15 years he had then been working at Albany Med.  He evidently thought he could remain anonymous.  Not so.  Twenty minutes after seeing his name I had his home address, his phone number, a photograph (from Google Street View) of his house in Menands and even, from an online mortgage document, the name of another doctor who appeared to be his live-in partner.

Defeating the motion would have required an expert who, even if he or she survived the certain challenge, would likely have cost as much as the $20,000 that was probably paid to Leinung.  And Ferradino could simply have dismissed my claim, just as he had refused to grant me an order for the medical records.  Samaritan’s lawyers had evidently calculated that I would not risk that much money even if I could come up with it.  They were right;  I did submit an affidavit but the outcome was predictable;  the motion was granted; my lawsuit was dismissed.

With the lawsuit over, I turned my attention to all those claims that the area’s newspapers were ignoring.  To do this, first I search the online database of the state’s court system. Then, armed with the index numbers of cases against medical providers, I go to the offices of the county clerks, get the files and look for claims that were newsworthy.  With copies in hand, I head home to write a story.

The procedure for obtaining records varies by county.  In Albany County, the documents are all on paper. The staff pulls files on request and there’s a limit of five files a day.  Rensselaer County has moved forward since 2008; many documents have been scanned and can be viewed and printed from terminals in the office.  Saratoga County – where my biggest story so far,  Susan Stalker vs. Akiva Abraham and Samaritan Hospital was filed – is already in the future; almost all files can be accessed and printed from anywhere.

The final step before posting each item is to check the newspapers’ online archives and Google to see if the lawsuit had been mentioned.  In six years, I have found none.  If a case involved a death, I would also look for an obituary that might provide details of the person’s life that could be added to the piece

By early 2011, details of many lawsuits had been posted here and I decided I needed a ‘front page’ and a place where links to stories on the blog and longer, more significant articles – such as the first one on the Stalker case and my account of Lisa’s last three weeks – could be placed.  So I launched a web page and registered ‘’ as its address.  Seven months later I was in the records room at the Rensselaer County clerk’s office using the words ‘Samaritan Hospital’ in a computer search when I saw my own name. It was a lawsuit, not against the hospital, but filed by it. And I was the defendant.  It alleged that my use of the words ‘northeast health’ in my domain name was damaging the hospital’s reputation.  It demanded an injunction and an unspecified amount in damages and costs.

Once again I was a litigant in person, filing and responding to discovery demands and other documents.  I served a counterclaim for the pages from Lisa’s medical records that I believe were withheld during the wrongful-death case.  I filed a motion asking the judge, Andrew G. Ceresia, to recuse himself due to his previous employment at a firm that represented Samaritan Hospital in the earlier case. Samaritan filed an objection to my motion. Ceresia stayed.  My demand for the allegedly withheld documents was denied. I filed a demand for details of Northeast Health’s spending on advertising and public relations.

The hospital had said it was ready for trial.  But the prospect of eventually being compelled to turn over the ad-spending information apparently had an effect. There was no trial.  Almost two years after it was filed, the case was resolved.  And my web page continued with a new address:


Ten years after I wrote to Times Union editor Rex Smith about his paper's suppression of news, and six years after posting the first lawsuit stories on this blog, the TU is still ignoring claims of malpractice filed against its advertisers.  Now its current publisher, George Randolph Hearst, III, sits on the governing board of St. Peter's Health Partners and chairs fundraising committees that have raised millions for the organization.

Meanwhile, patients in the area's medical facilities (most of them now run by St. Peters Health Partners) continue to be victims of  serious but totally avoidable injuries.  Some of them or their families file lawsuits – and then spend years battling defense lawyers who are funded by an immensely wealthy insurance carrier.

And thanks to the newspapers' silence, almost no one knows about it.

This means that the providers can fight virtually every claim, even when they know they are liable, while maintaining a public image of being competent and caring.  In one such case an anesthesiologist and a nurse both admitted to state investigators that they separately gave a patient, Joseph Bartoski, a large dose of a blood thinner that caused him to bleed to death.  But despite these admissions the defendants continued to fight the claim until settling just before trial for $350,000.

That money – as well as the legal fees on both sides – was ultimately paid by the public in the form of medical costs increased in part by the ever higher malpractice-insurance premiums that providers and insurance carriers claim are destroying the country’s healthcare system.

And its not that the area’s newspapers ignore all claims of medical negligence.  In 2005 a lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of Laura Woolsey got lots of media attention; the Times Union published several stories and an editorial.  But another case with very similar allegations, filed on behalf of the estate of Joan Clark a few months earlier, was ignored.  Not a word, then or when it settled three years later.

The difference? Woolsey was in the Schenectady County jail and her claim was against the county and a prison medical-services contractor. The Clark suit was filed by former Rensselaer city councilman Fred Clark against Albany Memorial Hospital, which was and still is part of an organization that is one of the TU’s biggest advertisers.

But the most glaring evidence of the newspapers’ corruption is the coverage that was given to –  and not given to – former doctor and now state prisoner Akiva Abraham.  From 2007, numerous stories were published in the newspapers about the gynecologist: “Board revokes doctor’s license”; DA investigates doctor’s conduct”; Physician loses bid to regain  license”; “Owner held in club fire”; “Club arson suspect is released on bail”;  “State: Boss shorted wages”; “Hung jury in arson trial”;  “Jury deliberates in club arson club retrial”;  “State moves to seize assets of ex-doctor”; “Ex-doctor files for bankruptcy”, and in 2013, reporting a decision by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals that affirmed Abraham’s 4-to 12-year prison sentence: “Fraud conviction in nightclub fire upheld”.

During the time these stories appeared there was an active lawsuit that accused Abraham of performing an unauthorized and medical unnecessary procedure on an unconscious patient without her knowledge or consent that left her disfigured.  The case went on for six years, ending with a confidential settlement in August 2012.

And the newspapers never published a word.

Why?  Because the suit also named Samaritan Hospital.  It alleged ‘negligent credentialing’: that Samaritan knew or should have known each time it granted Abraham privileges that he was medically and morally unfit to practice.

Also ignored was the suit Abraham had earlier filed against another advertiser-hospital after it fired him for falsifying a medical record.  And one naming him that ended with a $1.6 million settlement for a woman who died during childbirth.  And one against him brought by an insurance company that claimed it should not have to pay for his defense of yet another case – also not reported by the newspapers – filed by a woman who was injured while giving birth.

Add to that the dozens of other cases that have been suppressed by the area’s newspapers since 1998 and you have a insidious conspiracy that benefits all those involved but harms the public.  The secrecy means providers have little incentive to stop the harm; evidently they consider it cost-effective to let it go on and have the public pay for the damage.  The law firms – on both sides – receive a continuing stream of revenue that would disappear if the newspapers were holding the providers accountable.  The insurers, of course, simply hike their premiums to pay for the legal battles and settlements.  And the providers pass those costs on in higher medical bills which the pubic pays for, either directly or in higher premiums for health insurance.

It’s a conspiracy of silence.  And the area’s newspapers are the enablers. Without their willingness to censor news for profit this unhealthy alliance against the public interest could not exist.

Ten years after I started seeking ‘answers for Lisa’ I still don’t have any.  But very soon now a lot more people are going to be asking the questions.

How it began: Lisa at Samaritan Hospital 

A lesson not learned: Another patient dies

Twitter: @answersforlisa


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Breaking: Jury reaches verdict

Saratoga Hospital coffee-burn
patient wins partial jury verdict

By David Baker
Posted July 21, 2014
263 words

A Saratoga County panel of six jurors said the Saratoga Hospital was not negligent in allowing a patient in the emergency room to have hot coffee that spilled on him during a seizure, but decided that the hospial did deviate from the accepted standard of care in its treatment of his burns and awarded him $25,000 for pain and suffering.

The verdict came at the end of a trial before state Supreme Court Justice Ann C. Crowell in Ballston Spa. The lawsuit was the subject of an exclusive story posted here last week.

The amount of the award means that Rodney Vallone will probably get nothing. His attorneys are entitled to a third of the net amount, that is after the costs of preparing for and conducting a trial are deducted. These may well exceed the award.

Jurors were asked a series of questions, most of which required a yes or no answer.

Did the defendant deviate from the standard of care in its treatment of Vallone? YES. Was this deviation a substantial factor in causing harm to Vallone? YES. (One juror voted no).  Did the hospital deviate from the standard of care in discharging Vallone? YES. Was this a substantial factor in causing harm? NO. Was Vallone negligent while in the ER? YES.  Was this a factor in causing him harm? YES.

Jurors were asked to state the percentage of fault. They said the hospital was 10 percent to blame, Vallone 90 percent.  They set damages at $25,000 for past pain and suffering.  Asked if he was due an award for medical expenses or future pain, they voted no.

Missed diagnosis alleged

Flesh-eating infection
of hand brings lawsuit

By David Baker
Posted July 21, 2014
343 words

A man who claims his left hand is unusable after doctors failed to promptly diagnose a flesh-eating infection has filed a lawsuit against them and Albany Memorial Hospital.

According to legal papers, Carl Hodge of Albany County went to the hospital’s emergency room in May 2012 complaining of severe pain following an injury to his left thumb. After an examination by defendant Alison Spear, M.D. he was referred to defendant Virgilio Victoriano M.D. After an examination, the thumb was immobilized with a cast and he was sent home.

Three days later Hodge went back to the Albany Memorial emergency room where he was seen by physician’s assistant Karyn Schwarzenegger and physicians Tammy Adamason and  David Golub, all of whom are named as defendants.  The cast was removed and Hodge was sent home but, according to the suit, Victoriano was not notified that Hodge had returned to the hospital.

Four days later Hodge went back to Victoriano, who sent him that same day to Albany Memorial for surgery for what was diagnosed as necrotizing fasciitis – a so-called flesh-eating infection.

“Over the next several weeks, plaintiff remained hospitalized for severe necrotizing infection and underwent multiple surgical procedures on the left hand including excision of skin blebs, incision and drainage of subcutaneous hematoma and pus, multiple radical debridements of infected tissue, muscle and fascia, resulting in complicated open wound left hand that ultimately required split thickness skin graft,” a document filed in the case says.

After discharge from the hospital Hodge received extensive physical therapy but was left with a hand that is all but unusable, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed by John B. Casey, an attorney with the Albany law firm Dreyer Boyajian. The hospital is represented by MaGuire, Cardona of Menands. Representing Victoriano is Eugene Napierski of  Napierski, Vandenburgh, Napierski & O’Connor. The other defendants and a limited partnership by which they were employed are represented by Phelan, Phelan & Danek of Albany.

As with every other case reported by this web page since 2008, there is no indication that details have been published in the area’s media.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Burning issue

Case of ER patient injured
by hot coffee goes to trial

By David Baker
Posted July 18, 2014
505 words

A trial in a case in which man with a history of seizures who was burned when he passed out and spilled hot coffee on his groin area while in the emergency room at Saratoga Hospital started this week at the Saratoga County office complex in Ballston Spa.

Rodney Vallone of Saratoga Springs claims the hospital is liable because it allowed him to have the coffee, and for allegedly failing to immediately transfer him to a burn unit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 and named only the hospital as a defendant.  In 2010, Vallone’s attorneys become aware that some of the people involved in his care were not employees of the hospital but worked for a company called Saratoga Emergency Physicians. The lawyers tried to serve an amended complaint that added Saratoga Emergency Physicians as a defendant, and also alleged that the hospital had failed to create incident reports and had destroyed photographs of Vallone’s injuries.

The hospital refused to accept the amended complaint and the dispute went before the judge, Stephen Ferradino, who ruled that it was too late to add defendants, and that Vallone’s lawyers had presented no evidence that records were destroyed.

“The Court is struck by the failure of the plaintiff to provide the court and other proof in admissible form to support the proposed amendment such as testimony or documents about the hospital policy plaintiff alleges was violated,” Ferradino wrote in a decision denying the motion.

In 2013 the hospital served a motion for summary judgment, asking that the entire case be dismissed.  Such a motion by defendants is routine in the weeks before a scheduled trial.

“The defendant asserts that summary judgment should be granted in this case because it cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of the emergency room physician’s assistant or the hospitalist, because these individuals were not employees of the defendant,” Ferradino wrote in a decision. “However, an exception to this rule exists where a patient comes into a hospital emergency room seeking treatment from the hospital itself rather than a physician of the patient’s own choosing.  Therefore, the hospital is not entitled to summary judgment on this basis.”

In its motion, the hospital presented affidavits from two doctors.  One of them said that there is no standard of care that requires medical personal to prevent a patient having a drink. Both said that the hospital was in no way responsible for Vallone’s injuries.

But Vallone’s expert said that a delay of nearly two weeks before Vallone’s injury was evaluated at a burn unit was gross negligence and had increased the possibility of complications and the amount and duration of pain, as well as decreasing the likelihood of a good recovery.

“The affidavit of plaintiff’s expert is sufficient to demonstrate triable issues of fact regarding the appropriate standard of care and whether any departure by the defendant therefrom was the proximate cause of patient’s injuries,” Ferradino wrote. “The defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied.” 

The trial started on Tuesday before Justice Ann C. Crowell.  Further details will be posted here as they become available.

A search of the Albany Times Union and the Saratogian web pages produced no mention of the case.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Two new claims

Injuries from falls alleged
 in two hospital lawsuits

By David Baker
Posted July 11, 2014
221 word

A woman who alleges she received serious injuries when she fell from an operating table just after undergoing a colonoscopy and barium enema at Samaritan Hospital in Troy has filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

According to the suit, Eve Mattice of Rensselaer County “…has been caused to suffer and sustain injuries to her head, body and limbs including but not limited to a comminuted fracture of the fifth metatarsal of the right foot, together with injuries both internal and external which may be of a permanent nature.”

The suit was filed on May 2 by attorney Robert A. Beecher of Albany.  Papers that would show who is defending the hospital were not available at the time the file was examined.

In the second case, Eleanor Brown of Rensselaer alleges that in November 2013 an employee or agent of defendant St. Peter’s Hospital was negligent when he or she attempted to move her from a bed or a chair without the assistance of a second person, as required by the hospital.  As a result, the suit says,  Brown fell to the floor, receiving “…extensive permanent physical, emotional and psychological injuries and damages.”

The suit also names St. Peter’s Health Care Services and St. Peter’s Health Partners. It was filed in December 2013 by the Latham law firm Anderson, Moschetti & Taffany.

Twitter: @answersforlisa


Monday, June 30, 2014

Testimony reveals cover-up

Court transcripts show nurses
failed to report patient’s injury

Family were not told for three weeks
 that he had suffered a serious burn 
from a cold pack filled with hot water,
 itself a violation of hospital procedure

By David Baker
Posted June 30, 2014
1,242 words

Two nurses at Albany Memorial Hospital admitted under oath that they waited more than a week to file incident reports that are required within 24 hours, and almost three weeks to tell the family of a patient that he had received a serious burn from an cold pack that, in violation of a hospital protocol, had been filled with hot water and placed under him while he was heavily medicated.

The testimony is recorded in transcripts of depositions taken in a lawsuit brought by Leonard and Rita Guyette of Troy.  The claim was filed in January 2007.  In December of that year an amended claim was filed, adding a demand for putitive damages.

The case is listed on the court system’s web site as being “settled” on April 24, 2008 – four days before a trial was scheduled to begin. There is no indication in public records of how much was paid to settle the claim.

One of the nurses was Donna M. Karpinski. She was questioned by Thomas Conway of Conway & Kirby, a law firm in Latham NY that was representing the Guyettes. The lawsuit alleged that staff at first told Guyette’s family that he had a bedsore, not a serious burn.

Q.  Did you talk to the family at all?
A.  No.
Q.  Did you call the family?
A   No, I did not.
Q.  Did you advise the family that there had been an incident in connection with their relative?
A.  No, I did not.
Q.  Why not?
A.  I didn’t think it was going to became what it became.
Q.  Did there come a point in time where it did become something?
A.  Yeah.
Q.  When was that, ma’am?
A.  I don’t know.  Because I did not have him as a patient too often after the incident.
Q.  Now, as I understand it, you never reported it to you supervisor; is that correct?
A. Probably not.
Q.  And did anyone discuss that with you?
A.  My supervisor, yes.
Q.  And who would that have been/
A.  Marianne Ruberto
Q.  Now, when you say you didn’t think it was going to amount to much so you didn’t report it to you supervisor, tell me, what do you mean by that?
A.  Well, I just didn’t think it was going to turn into what it turned into
Q.  You knew he had been burned, right?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Did you know what the procedure was with regard to reporting to your supervisor a burn incident?
A.  You know, this is the first incident I ever had working so – and I –
Q.  Is your answer no, ma’am?
A.  An incident to me is was when somebody fell out of bed.  That was an incident.
Q.  And if somebody fell out of bed, would you have reported it to your supervisor?
A.  Uh-huh.
Q.  But if a patient gets burned, you didn’t know you were required to report it to your supervisor?
A.  I did not.

Later in the deposition this exchanged occurred.

Q.  One of the (hospital’s) procedures is that you never apply heat to a patient without a doctor’s order. You knew that had been violated, right?
A.  Right.
Q.  Another procedure was that you never use the cold pack to apply hot water or heat to a patient; is that correct?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Any other procedures that you recall that were violated?
A.  I don’t recall that it’s a procedure, but I know I probably should have notified the supervisor and the family.
Q.  And you did neither, right?
A.  Right.

Also deposed was Marianne Ruberto, a registered nurse and a nurse manager.

Q.  What is the procedure when an event such as a burn occurs?  What is the procedure that the staff is supposed to follow as far as reporting it?
A.  They’re supposed to fill out an incident sheet.
Q.  Are they supposed to fill it out immediately when it happens?
A.  Yes.  They have a 24-hour period.
Q.  They’re certainly not supposed to wait as much as ten or 11 days; is that correct?
A.  Correct.
Q.  And in fact, 24 hours is the rule?
A.  They are supposed to do it immediately, but the deadline to have it completed and made out is 24 hours.
Q.  And in this instance that wasn’t done, is that correct?
A.  Correct.
Q.  Do you know why it wasn’t done?
A.  I can’t answer for the nurse.

A few minutes later there is this exchange:

Q.  Did you know that your staff was telling the family that he had a bedsore?
A.  Correct.
Q.  And  did you talk to your staff about that?
A.  When I knew.
Q. And can you tell me who in your staff was telling the family of this patient that he had a bedsore as opposed to a burn?
A.  Not without looking at records of who took care of the patient and then questioning them about what they said.
Q.  Well, we have records of the care of the patient, if you want to take a minute and look at them to jog your memory.  But you became aware that they were, in fact, misinforming the family, correct?
A. Correct.
Q.  And the people that misinformed the family and told the family that he had a bedsore as opposed to a having been burned, were they disciplined?
A.  No, not that I recall.

Also deposed and questioned by an attorney for the hospital was Linda Gutta, a daughter of Leonard Guyette. The attorney would want to know what Gutta would say at trial.  He asked Gutta about two telephone numbers written on a document that had been examined.

 Gutta:  That’s the number for Westchester burn unit,  Dr. Buckley. I couldn’t remember her name.  There is it. That’s who I called.
Q.  Your also have a number there for Mr. Dasher?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Did you ever speak to Mr. Dasher?
A.  Yes, I did.
Q.  On how many occasions?
A.  I believe twice.
Q.  Do you know who Mr. Dasher is?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Who is he?
A.  Well, he’s the head of that Northeast Group that owns Memorial Hospital.
Q.  When was the first of the occasions  you spoke  with him?
A.  I’m not sure, but it was after my father was burned.
Q.  What was the sum and substance of this conversation?
A.  I called to tell him what happened to my father.
Q. He took your phone call?
A.  Yeah.
Q.  Did he say anything to you?
A. He told me he would look into it and have it taken care of and get back to me.
Q. What specifically did you tell Mr. Dasher at that time?
A.  I told him that we had just found out that my father was burned and they kept it from us for 21 days and we didn’t have the opportunity to send him to the burn unit and I wanted something done.  I wanted answers and people were hiding from us, just not helping us.

Leonard Guyette died in January 2013, 18 months after he was found on the floor by his bed at St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, where he was recovering from hip surgery.  A story posted here on June 13 said his widow has filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital, Seton Health Systems and St. Peter’s Health Partners are liable for injuries that led to his death.

A costly silence


Transcrips reveal
an absence of truth

Posted June 30, 2014
637 words

Documents in yet another lawsuit show – these ones in clear detail – a stunning lack of competency and integrity in nursing staff and management at a hospital run by Northeast Health, Inc. (which is now a part of St. Peter’s Health Partners).  As is described in the story above, two nurses testified under oath that they didn’t know an incident in which a patient received a serious injury had to be reported to management, and that the patient’s family had to be informed.

They didn’t do either.  What staff members did do was lie to the family, telling them for three weeks that Leonard Guyette had a bedsore, not a huge burn from a cold pack that had been filled with hot water, an act which itself – applying heat to a patient without a physician’s direct order – was also a violation of the hospital’s procedures.

One of the consequences of this coverup was that the family was denied the opportunity to immediately transfer Mr. Guyette to a burn unit, where specialized treatment might have lessened the severity of his injury.

The result was a claim for both compensation and for punitive damages, the second claim being added after the coverup was revealed during pretrial discovery.

The management of these hospitals learns nothing and forgets nothing. Consider the following instances of alleged harm, all from cases reported on this blog:

* An attending physician's orders and the organization’s own written protocols are ignored prior to the death of a patient with diabetes; seven months later exactly the same thing precedes the death of another diabetic. Both patients had dangerously low blood glucose levels recorded in their charts.

 * A doctor’s orders and hospital protocols are ignored before a serious injury and permanent disfigurement is inflicted on a patient following surgery to repair a leg fracture.

 * A patient dies after a doctor and then a nurse separately disregard a requirement that they flush out blood thinner from a medication dispenser.

 * A patient chokes to death after staff ignore a nothing-by-mouth order.

And now, once again, despite overwhelming evidence of its liability, Northeast Health fought the Guyette claim, generating fees for its attorneys and then, days before trial, had  its insurer pay out far more than would have been needed to settle immediately.  All of which, through higher medial bills that reflect higher malpractice insurance premiums, are ultimately paid by the public.

The records in this case fill a large cardboard box in the Rensselaer County clerk’s office. Medical records, motions and transcripts of the depositions are all there, none of which would be available to the public if the case had been settled early.

But in 2007 no one was publishing details of these lawsuits. The area’s newspapers, replete every day with ads for Northeast Health (and now St. Peter’s Health Partners), simply ignore suits against advertisers, no matter how serious the allegations or how large the eventual settlement.  Over the past 14 years the management of Northeast Health/St. Peter’s Health Partners have fought dozens of lawsuits, safe in the knowledge that the organization's reputation is protected by a corupted media that has totally abandoned its stated mission of gathering and disseminating information that is in the public interest.

One of the members of St. Peter’s Health Partners’ board – and a major fund-raiser for the recent multi-million dollar addition to St. Peter’s Hospital – is George R. Hearst, the publisher of the area’s largest newspaper, the Albany Times Union. The managements of the area’s two other daily newspapers are in lockstep with Hearst; they also ignore lawsuits alleging medical harm.

These entities – and the law firms that litigate the claims – benefit from this conspiracy of silence.  Meanwhile, patients continue to be harmed by negligence and avoidable errors.

The public is the loser.  And it’s the public that is paying for it all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hostile workplace alleged

Woman claims harassment at Troy
hospital forced her to quit her job

By David Baker
Posted June 24, 2014
599 words

A woman who worked in the emergency department at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, NY has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was forced out of her job after she complained that a male employee was sexual harassing her, at one point showing her videos of himself having sex with another woman.

Patricia Cocozzo of Saratoga County alleges violations of New York’s human rights law, including discrimination because of her substantial hearing loss and her age.  She also alleges a hostile work environment, constructive dismissal, and retaliation for complaining about the alleged harassment.

According to legal papers, soon after Cocozzo, who is 58, began working at Samaritan Hospital she was taunted and ridiculed by younger co-workers because of her hearing impairment.

“Plaintiff’s immediate supervisor and team leader at Samaritan Hospital, Mary Komdat, served to create a hostile work environment along with others when she belittled Ms. Cocozzo because of her hearing disability,” a document filed in the Rensselaer County Clerk’s office says.

Cocozzo alleges that during the spring of 2011 a male employee, Sean Garavelli, began sexual harassing her.

“Upon information and belief, Garavelli had sexual relations with another employee of defendant and openly discussed this incident at the work place and referred to this female in derogatory terms,” a legal paper says.

Cocozzo then complained to two supervisors, Judy Waldecki and Cindy Ciabotte, but allegedly nothing was done.

“The response was to put Ms. Cocozzo on a probation to see if she can adapt to her hostile work environment,” a legal paper says.

“Moreover, they told Ms. Komdat that Ms. Cocozzo had made complaints to them, which led to Ms. Komdat‘s increased ridicule and hostility towards Ms. Cocozzo.”

The suit says that Garavelli’s harassment of Cocozzo  continued. “... which included but was not limited to making offensive comments, rubbing Ms. Cocozzo’s shoulders, grabbing his groin area and overtly suggesting with his body movements that he and Plaintiff have sex.  These actions occurred over the course of several months in 2011 and 2012.”

The papers say Cocozzo was insulted and humiliated by the harassment.

“Garavelli’s sexual advances worsened over the course of 2011, and on or about March 2012, when Garavelli showed Plaintiff videos of him having sex with another woman.”

According to the suit, Cocozzo complained to both the defendant’s employee psychologist and its the human resource director.  “Plaintiff also tried to see defendants in early  2012, however she was unable to get an appointment.”

Cocozzo alleges that when she tried to transfer to a different department she was told by Ciabotte that she, Ciabotte, would make sure Cocozzo would not get another job.

“Soon thereafter, on or about March 2012, when Berger, Waldecki and Ciabotte failed to take any remedial action but instead, they forced Plaintiff to transfer to Albany Memorial when she would take a pay-cut.”

Cocozzo continued to work at Samaritan on weekends, where co-workers “… made fun of her hearing and were condescending and ridiculing to her in front of co-workers and patients,” the suit says.

In August 2012 Cocozzo resigned.

The suit seeks orders declaring that the alleged conduct is a violation of the state’s human rights law; recovery of lost past and future earnings; and compensation for pain, suffering, emotional distress and  humiliation, as well as medical expenses and attorneys’ fees.

The claim, which names Northeast Health and St. Peter’s Health Partners, was filed in state Supreme Court in Rensselaer County on May 5 by the Syracuse law firm Levine & Blit.  The case has not been assigned to a judge.  Documents that would show who is representing the defendant have not yet been filed.

A seach of newspaper archives and on Google produced no indication that the case has been the subject of a story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A duty abandoned


Publisher’s conflict 
leaves readers uninformed

By David Baker
Posted June 18,2014
668 words

George Randolph Hearst III is a man with two masters.

One is readers of the newspaper, the Albany (NY) Times Union, of which he is publisher.

The other is St. Peter’s Heath Partners, which, following a recent merger,  operates four hospitals, several nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and clinics in the Albany area in upstate New York, and where Hearst has a seat on the board.

Hearst can’t serve both of them.  It’s a huge conflict of interest.

Staff in medical facilities make mistakes. People get hurt. Some of them die.  Lawsuits are filed. A lot of them.

But readers of Hearst’s newspaper would never know it.  For 14 years the paper has been silent on dozens of cases, some alleging wrongful death or catastrophic injuries, many of them quietly settled on the eve of trial after  years of litigation.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no mention of the medical organization in the Times Union. Just the opposite. Every day the paper runs ads, both in print and online, promoting the medical group as competent and caring.

Those ads bring in a significant stream of revenue.  Meanwhile, its readers are kept in the dark about dozens of claims alleging negligence and malpractice.

The are only two things these hospital executives care about: money and their public image.  Patient safety is, at best, a distance third.  So they spend an enormous amount of money buying media silence, a silence which in turn allows them to fight every claim of patient harm – even when they know they are liable – and put victims or their families through the second anguish of a legal battle, without any damage to their paid-for public image.

A publisher who hadn’t abandoned his paper’s core function of informing the public would publish stories about some of these claims. The hospitals would then have only one way to avoid the damage to their image:  Do every possible to stop the harm and, when it does occur, admit it and offer compensation.

But Hearst chooses instead to place profit above the public good.  Lawsuits against medical providers aren’t mentioned, no matter how unusual the allegations.

Publishing details of at least some of these lawsuits would benefit the public in several ways.

First, it would be an incentive for medical providers to put an emphasis on patient safety, rather than, as now, on routinely denying responsibility. Without it, the providers and their lawyers – who earn fees for defending cases, not for settling them – can and do fight claims right up to the eve of trial, out of public view. Thanks to the media, the providers’ false image of being competent and caring remains intact.

Second, victims of medical errors or – if the error was fatal, their families – would be spared the stress of a long and punishing legal battle. Even when providers eventually settle, it is often with no acknowledgment of wrongdoing, so the closure that can come only with a full explanation of what went wrong and some indication that steps will be taken to avoid a repeat is denied.

Finally, the silence of the media has a financial impact.  The costs of defending claims are paid by insurance carriers.  These are passed on to the providers in higher premiums, which are then added to hospitals’ and doctors’ bills. Ultimately the public pays to defend these claims – as well as the much higher amount often needed to settle a claim after years of litigation.

But George Randolph Hearst III is unconcerned about any of this.  Without even a pretense of journalist independence or integrity, his has his newspaper endlessly promotes an organization it should be holding accountable.  He chairs a fundraising effort for a new building at one of its hospitals, an organization from which his newspaper receives a steady stream of revenue that it would not get if it was carrying out its core function of informing the public.

The TU’s editorial writers frequently lecture about the corrupting influence of money and special interests. They don’t have far to look for a perfect example.

Doctor quoted in ad is named in lawsuit

The formal opening of the Hearst Pavilion at St. Peter’s Hospital on June 10 was marked with a 16-page brochure on glossy paper, delivered as an insert in the Times Union. Filled with photographs and glowing descriptions of the hospital, it quotes, on page 8, St. Peter’s chief of cardiac and vascular services, Niloo Edwards.

Visitors to this site might recognize that name; an exclusive story posted here on March 28 said that Edwards is a defendant in an active lawsuit filed by John Carp, who developed a life-threatening bedsore following bypass surgery at the hospital.

A paragraph in that story said: “Carp’s attending physician at St. Peter’s Hospital, Niloo Edwards, allegedly failed to recognize that Carp was at high risk of developing an ulcer or that an ulcer had appeared before Carp was discharged.”

According to the suit, Carp was later transferred to the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Center in Niskayuna – now also operated by St. Peter’s Health Partners – where another doctor also allegedly failed to properly treat the ulcer.

Read the story HERE

 –David Baker