Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Two sisters

By David Baker
Posted January 28, 2014

It would be hard to imagine two more different lives - even if they were not sisters.
One is living what at least on the outside looks like a dream come true: Overnight success at an early age, worldwide adulation and immense wealth.
The other one is on Medicaid and SSI and has struggled with drug addiction and multiple health issues. 
Before I met Alison I didn’t know Mariah Carey had a sister. I also didn’t know much about Mariah, beyond seeing her name in the media over the past 25 years. I couldn’t have named even one of her songs, or known it was her if I heard it.
That changed in September 2015 when I responded to a post on a patient-safety page on Facebook asking if there was anyone in or near Albany, N.Y. who could visit a patient in a hospital there. The patient, I was told, was recovering from surgery for a serious brain injury caused when she hit on the head and thrown down a flight of stairs in her home.
This happened in a town on eastern Long Island. How Alison wound up in a hospital 200 miles away is a mystery, as is the identity of the man who attacked her.
But she was there, still confused after coming off life support. And no one was visiting her. No one was speaking for her. For years there had been little contact with her family. Her two siblings and four children didn’t know where she was for years at a time.
So I began bringing her little things that can relieve the tedium of a long hospital stay; a milk shake (chocolate is her favorite), an iPod, a book, a pair of reading glasses. I activated and paid for cable TV service in her room, which no family member had done. Later, when she was discharged to a rehab facility I bought some clothes. Without them, she would have left in a hospital gown.
Alison has made a lot of bad choices over the years. Because she is related to someone famous, these choices made her an embarrassment. Her health issues, her brushes with the law, have been described in certain tabloid publications. Some of these stories refer to an abusive home when she was a child.
But no one has revealed the terrible truth that has left Alison a profoundly damaged and tortured soul.
I now know Alison better than than any of her family. We have spent a lot of time together. Just after Christmas she stayed at my home for a few days after she was abruptly discharged from a hospital with nowhere to go. We talked a lot. and she told me things she said she has never told anyone, not even a therapist. She described in detail events that while, still a child, she was forced to watch.
Those descriptions will haunt me for the rest of my life. And I didn’t witness them. Terrible things, all done under the guise of what some people call a religion.
But most of her family members have written her off. Even her first born son.
Alison’s eldest child is Shawn McDonald. He’s 38, and a lawyer, working for the Nike corporation in Oregon.
Back in November, I sent a text message to him, asking if he would reimburse me the money I had spent for his mother’s cable TV service in the hospital - then totaling $183.
After a second message, he responding by listing the ways he feels his mother has let him down - then suggesting that I go to Alison’s brother for the money.
Fast forward to January of this year. What follows is unedited copies of a series of messages between McDonald and me. The first one was sent by me on January 7:

“Last night your mother, just out of the hospital after a seizure, slept in a car. She's flat broke and desperate. I'm already out several hundred dollars for her. I can't do any more.”

“What's the precise amount you're down and what is your PayPal account?”

“The amount for which I have receipts is $702.40. This was for TV service at three hospitals, clothes - your mother had none when she was discharged from Albany Med - reading glasses, a cell phone and cell service and other items such as cosmetics and toiletries.  This figure does not include indirect expenses, such as travel costs, for which I am not asking and will not ask to be reimbursed.”

“I’ll see what I can do over the next month or so.  No promises on this and also no promises that if this is sent for this that it will be sent for other costs moving forward.  I'll keep you posted.  Thanks.”

“Sorry Shawn, "maybe, someday" doesn't do it. As you know, these expenses were incurred back in September and October. I am well past retirement age and living on Social Security and a modest company pension. The items purchased for your mother were not luxuries but were things family members would normally provide for a relative in a hospital.
If you are unwilling to reimburse me immediately any future claim will be somewhat higher than the reasonable amount I am requesting now.
Thank you”

“Trying to extort me with the threat of meritless litigation is not going to help things here. I am a licensed lawyer in multiple states -- I am keenly aware that there isn't a court in America that would find that I have liability for "cell phones, cosmetics and cable" or anything, really, for a woman who is my mother in name only -- she abandoned me for most of my childhood and we have barely seen each other over the last decade plus.  If you filed a claim you would not only lose, but it would be expensive for you to pursue that claim and defend any counterclaims.

“Who asked you to do any of this? Morgan? [Alison’s brother]. Why isn't he reimbursing you for anything?  

“Now that you have shown your true extortionist colors, in order for me to even consider this, you would have to send proof of these purported purchases and be willing to sign both a NDA [nondisclosure agreement] and an agreement that you'd neither file a suit against me or testify in any suit brought by anyone else.



Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Lisa - left us December 2, 2003

While I was gone

Visitors to this page will have noticed that it's been a while since anything has been posted here. That's because for the past two months I have spent a lot of time protecting the interests of a patient in a hospital in the Capital District. This person, due largely to her own actions, has been estranged for many years from her family - one of whom is a very famous entertainment figure.
This patient has now left the area and although I remain in contact with her, I plan to resume posting here and elsewhere on the Capital District media silence on lawsuits alleging negligence filed against medical operators that are big advertisers.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


"News is what somebody somewhere

wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."

- Lord Northcliffe,  British newspaper publisher

Friday, July 31, 2015

An open letter to Fred LeBrun

A well-oiled machine keeps
the bad news out of sight

To: Mr. Fred LeBrun, Times Union:
Posted Friday July 31, 2015

Reading your columns, I notice that you often write about corruption and the undue influence of money.

Mostly your opinions are about the greed of politicians and other public officials. This is good; we’re losing count of the number of people on the public payroll who have been arrested/indicted and, in some cases, convicted, for benefiting themselves or their families at the public’s expense.

But I can’t help wondering if you are at all concerned about the money that for years has totally corrupted the people who run the organization that pays you.

There are certainly some searching questions you could put to these people.

For example, why did the TU run several stories and even an editorial about Laura Woolsey, a young women with a known heart condition who died after her complaints of chest pain were ignored by staff at a jail, while it published absolutely nothing about Joanne Clark, who also had a known heart condition, and died when her complaints of chest pain were ignored by an emergency room doctor at Albany Memorial Hospital?

Both deaths prompted a lawsuit. The Clark claim — filed by her husband, former Rensselaer city alderman Fred Clark — ended with a settlement, and the doctor’s license was revoked.

But not a word about it appeared in your newspaper, not even as a brief, certainly not the multiple stories and the scathing editorial the TU ran about the Woolsey death.

Then there’s the case of former gynecologist  — and now state prisoner — Akiva Abraham.

Do you really think that this case was not newsworthy? Do you really think the public should not know that the process of checking a doctor’s background and credentials was evidently so lax at Samaritan Hospital that this contemptible individual was repeatedly granted privileges, despite the fact that he had been fired by two previous facilities for falsifying medical records, and was facing two malpractice suits —  also not reported — one of which involved the death of a woman during childbirth?

Clearly you employers didn’t think so; during six years of litigation that followed an unauthorized and unnecessary surgery performed by Abraham, in which the hospital faced the unusual claim of ‘negligent credentialing’ the paper never once mentioned the case, even as it published a dozen stories about the doctor’s other legal problems.

That case settled on the first day of trial.  By then, Abraham who had no malpractice insurance, had filed for bankruptcy protection and was in prison so no settlement money was coming from him. 
And Samaritan's insurance company may have considered the hospital's failure to vet Abraham not a mistake, but rather a deliberate decision and therefore not covered by the policy - meaning the settlement as well as possibly the cost of the defending the litigation would have to come from the hospital’s own funds.

If so, that’s money that could otherwise be spent on things that would benefit patients.  Isn’t that something a newspaper should be investigating on behalf of the public?

Obviously the TU’s management didn’t think so.  Far more important to it is protecting the public image of an company that pours a lot of money into the advertisements that litter the paper every day and has the publisher's name in large letters on one of its buildings.
And now I’m wondering if hospital operators are the only beneficiaries of this suppression of information about big advertisers.

Car dealerships also spend a lot of money on ads. They must get sued. And even though they are rarely alleged to have caused a death, nevertheless, a story about a lawsuit over, say, a defective vehicle or a misrepresented loan would not be good for business.

So now I’m going to expand my searches of court records to include claims against the dealers whose ads run in the papers every day.

Then there are the Realtors. We saw how important their ad revenue is back in 2012 when a brief comment in a TU story prompted one of them to cancel his contract.

As was reported here and elsewhere, your publisher immediately interrupted a vacation to meet with a  Realtors’ group and apologize for — gasp! —  allowing a mildly negative opinion about them to appear in his paper.

Then he ran a full-page ad supporting Realtors several times over a week, estimated to be worth $78,000, to make amends for what he reportedly said in a letter to the Realtors was an “unfortunate” and “one-sided” article.

Actually, it wasn’t one-sided, and that was the problem.  

Of course, publishers protecting advertisers and clients isn't new.  Thirty five years ago I was writing for the Greenbush Area News, a small weekly newspaper in Rensselaer County.  One day, Anthony DiBello, an excitable Italian-American who was the owner and publisher of the paper, gave the editor a note, saying “Talk to me before you write anything negative about these.” or words to that effect.  On that paper were the names of several public officials and businesses.

One of those businesses was New York Telephone (which later became NYNEX and is now Verizon), with which DiBello had a contract to sort and send out bulk mail.

A few months later the editor resigned and I was left to run the paper, which including writing editorials.  One of these editorials suggested that New York Telephone provide phone lines for a struggling local volunteer ambulance squad at cost, as it did for its employees.

When copies of the paper arrived at the office DiBello saw the editorial but, according to people who were there, didn’t read it through.  Instead, he immediately ordered all four thousand copies of the paper destroyed and reprinted with the editorial removed.

A week later — after I had resigned  — stories about DiBello’s action appeared in the Times Union - which also printed the entire censored piece - and in the Record.  A New York Telephone spokesman was quoted saying the editorial made a reasonable suggestion that the company would consider implementing.

I don’t think you had a general-interest column back then, but its interesting to reflect that if you did have one, you might have lambasted Dibello.

Now, three decades later, it is the Times Union that is suppressing stories to protect its revenue stream.  Even if you or anyone at your paper wrote about how Akiva Abraham, the unfit gynecologist, was repeatedly authorized to practice, it wouldn’t be published, no matter how much it is in the public’s interest to know that it happened.

Which means that the TU and the area’s other dailies are not newspapers;  They are now merely a series of cogs in the hospitals’ elaborate PR machines, which for 15 years have hidden dozens of preventable deaths and injuries and the bitter litigation which followed some of them, while presenting a glowing but totally false image to the public.

And you, Mr LeBrun, are one of those cogs.

The story on this blog about the angry Realtor is HERE

The 2008 post about the censored editorial is HERE


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Watching the watchdogs


Big media's open secret

By David Baker
Posted Thursday July 2, 2015

Once again this week, ads for St. Peter's Health Partners are everywhere in the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union.

Here's the tally for Sunday: One full page, one strip across the bottom of page 1, and five quarter-page ads.

Then there are at least three quarter-pages and one full page every other day of the week. An ad on its smartphone app. And an ad on the paper's web page, announcing that the latest news is sponsored by the company.

That's the schedule, week after week.

And that's in just one of the area three daily newspapers. Then there are the commercials on radio and TV.

St. Peter's Heath Partners is spending a lot of money promoting itself - in an area where, following a 2011 merger, it dominates the healthcare market.

But as the many posts on my web page and blog suggest, this spending brings an added benefit: Information about lawsuits alleging deaths and injuries from negligence are ignored. It doesn't matter how serious the harm, how unusual the claim or how high the settlement - nothing appears in the newspapers.

And it's not only allegations of medical harm that don't get coverage; lawsuits against St. Perter's Health Partners alleging sexual harassment and discrimination are also ignored, even as similar claims against non-advertisers get prominent stories.

Even more disturbing is that so-called media watchdogs - the editors at the Columbia Journalism Review in particular - say it's not a story.

Why? Because lots of newspapers are doing the same thing. There's nothing unusual about it, they say, therefore it's not news.

That's a disturbing assessment of journalism in this country.  And apparently it's shared by several other self-appointed media monitors who, over the past several years, have shown no interest in the situation. Most of them didn't bother to reply to my correspondence, apparently unwilling to acknowledge what appears to be an open secret: news pages are for sale. American's big media is inherently corrupt.

I am in the process of setting up a new web page on which I will name these people. I will also post a series of e-mail messages to and from CJR, going back to 2006.
They paint a deeply disturbing picture, in which information of obvious public interest is routinely suppressed.

And media critics, in on the deal, look the other way.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Injured child

Lawsuit alleges premature birth
caused baby’s permanent injury

By David Baker
Posted June 2, 2015
389 words

The parents of a baby boy who has cerebral palsy have filed a lawsuit against a doctor and several medical entities claiming a failure to diagnose a condition that can cause a premature birth has left the child with a permanent disability.

Courtney and Anthony Sroka, II of Averill Park filed the claim against Vincent. A. Corcoran, M.D. and Seton Health OB/GYN.  The complaint also names St. Peter’s Health Partners – which, following a 2011 merger, operates Seton OB/GYN.

Also named is Trinity Health Corp., a not-for-profit corporation based in Livonia, Michigan that operates 86 hospitals in 21 states, including the four Capital District hospitals now a part of St. Peter’s Health Partners.

According to the complaint, Corcoran began treating Sroka for her pregnancy in April 2012.  The child was born prematurely in November of that year. Corcoran, it says, breached the duty of care by “…negligently and careless failing to consider and/or recognize the Plaintiff was at risk of having an incompetent cervix which could lead to premature birth of her child.”

The complaint also alleges that Corcoran failed to “…properly perform, review and interpret sonograms/ultrasounds of  the Plaintiff and her unborn child.”

The cervix is normally closed and rigid during most of a pregnancy. As the birth approaches, it relaxes and becomes shorter, finally opening enough to allow the baby to leave the womb.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s web page, an “incompetent cervix” is a condition when weak cervical tissue causes or contributes to premature birth or the loss of an otherwise healthy baby, most often between the eighteenth and twenty-second  week of pregnancy. Detecting the condition can be challenging if there is no history of miscarriage, it says, and but treatments are usually successful.

The complaint alleges that the child “…has sustained certain serious and permanent injuries, damages and disabilities, including, but not limited to, cerebral palsy, which have resulted  in great pain and discomfort, as well as physical and mental anguish, and excruciating conscious pain and suffering, all of which are permanent and will continue into the future.”  It seeks an unspecified amount in damages and costs.

The complaint – incorrectly dated April 10, 2014 – was  filed in April of this year by the Albany law firm O’Connell & Aronowitz.  Responses from attorneys representing the defendants were not on file at the time the complaint was obtained.


Avoiding punishment

Legal filings show hospital’s efforts to
avoid punitive damages in burn case

By David Baker
Posted June 2, 2015
438 words

Today there is more evidence of Albany Memorial Hospital’s desperate efforts to avoid a claim for putitive damages – even after two nurses had admitted under oath that they failed to report that a patient had been burned when an ice pack containing hot water had been place under him, and that for three weeks nursing staff had lied to the patient’s family about what had happened, telling them he had a bedsore.

The lawsuit – Leonard Guyette and Rita Guyette vs. Albany Memorial Hospital and Northeast Health – was first described here back in June 2014.  The story contained extracts from the deposition transcripts of the two nurses.

A link to that story is below.

Those admissions prompted the Guyettes’ lawyer to ask the court for permission to file an amended complaint, adding a claim for putitive damages.  Memorial Hospital objected, saying that because the claim for putitive damages wasn’t made earlier in written responses to questions, they would not be able to defend the claim.

The judge, Michael C. Lynch, disagreed.

“The Court rejects defendants’ arguments,” he wrote in a decision and order.  “A review of the several deposition transcripts included in the record before the Court indicates that delay in informing plaintiffs and their family of the burn to plaintiff was discussed at length at these examinations before trial.”

Quoting an appellate court decision, Lynch wrote: “In addition, ‘punitive damages are permitted when the defendant’s wrongdoing is not simply intentional but evidences a high degree of moral turpitude and demonstrates such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations.’  Thus the Court grants plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint to add a demand for putitive damages.”

But Memorial’s lawyers weren’t done trying to stop the new claim. They immediately filed another motion, this one asking the judge to dismiss the demand.  This time Lynch didn’t even explain his decision.  “This Court reiterates that the pleadings validate the inclusion of the putitive damages demand,” he wrote.  “Accordingly, the defendants’ motion is DENIED.”

That decision was dated April 21, 2008.  Three days later, the case was settled.

The records in Guyettes’ lawsuit are extensive but they don’t indicate how much was paid to settle it.  However, putitive damages are just that; meant to punish a defendant and deter it and others from similar conduct rather than compensate the victim. As such they are usually much higher than the amount paid in ordinary damages.

Also, because they are a punishment, it’s unlikely that putitive damages would be covered by insurance. In the Guyette case, Northeast Health probably had to pay that part of the settlement itself.


The first story on the Guyette case is HERE

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

And now, live..

New media phone platform
 puts everyone at the scene

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday April 15, 2015

Two weeks ago, people began using a new iPhone and iPad app that can make everybody a broadcaster. Called Periscope, it can put anybody with a smartphone right at the scene of breaking news, or in someone’s living room for a chat.
In one evening this week, I was on the set in a TV studio as the anchors were on the air, then, during breaks, talking among themselves and to the “visitors” on Periscope - who can send text messages that appear on the screen. A few minutes later I was at the scene of a shooting outside a gas station in the Midwest. Then it was on to a meeting room somewhere in Washington, D.C., where Congressman Bernie Sanders was at a podium addressing a small audience. 
This afternoon, President Obama was in what looked like a elementary school classroom in South Carolina. Most of his casual remarks won’t be on the news but as a teleported visitor, I was in that audience.
In the next few days I will be doing a broadcast. I’ll explain how I came to be writing about lawsuits against medical providers that the newspapers here have ignored. I’ll take questions and respond to comments.
Periscope is now owned by Twitter, and its going to be big. It’s yet enough way of going around the mainstream media - a media that in Albany, N.Y. has ignored dozens of lawsuits alleging avoidable deaths and injuries filed against big advertisers.

I will probably do the first broadcast next week. Check back here for the date and time.