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Medical Blunders Are Taking A Toll On Wrongful Death Claims In New York

Medical Blunders Are Taking A Toll On Wrongful Death Claims In New York
Date Posted: Monday, March 11th, 2019

Medical misconduct has killed 468 people in New York City’s 11 public hospitals in the past five years, their shattered families allege in wrongful-death claims.

The city has paid out $34 million to 56 families since 2014, according to a Post analysis of city comptroller data obtained through a Freedom of Information request. More than 400 cases are pending.

One of the biggest payouts by the Health and Hospital Corp. system — $3.2 million — went to the family of Georgia Thompson, who died six years after doctors at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn ignored her tuberculosis diagnosis, then repeatedly botched her treatment, leading to a harrowing three-week decline that ended with her death of catastrophic organ failure in 2014, according to court documents.

“It was a horrible situation,” Thompson’s daughter Shavianne Malcolm told The Post through tears. “The emptiness I feel, money can never replace.”

In another Kings County case, Everton Lee of Brooklyn lost both his pregnant wife, Yvonna Harvell, and their unborn son in 2015 when physicians ignored Harvell’s past history of cardiac problems, failed to notice that an X-ray showed she had an enlarged heart and missed symptoms of peritonitis — a cascade of negligence that led to both deaths, according to court documents. The city paid the widower $900,000 in 2017.

Kings County had the highest number of wrongful-death claims of any HHC hospital, with 91 filed from 2014 through 2018 — far more than the 54 cases logged against No. 2, the much larger Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

City doctors misdiagnosed flesh-eating bacteria in a horrific 2014 case in Lincoln Hospital in The Bronx, court papers said.

Gabriela Bravo, a 36-year-old Bronx mother of three, went to the emergency room with a sudden bout of shoulder pain. ER doctors diagnosed her with frozen shoulder, a mild joint malady, and sent her home.

In fact, she had a case of necrotizing fasciitis. The untreated infection raced through her body and sent her into cardiac arrest two days later, killing her, court documents say. Her husband, Pablo Bravo, accepted a $2.85 million settlement in 2016.

At Queens Hospital Center, Wendy Alexander, 49, a developmentally disabled woman who was on a strict puree diet, choked after a staffer fed her a sandwich, The Post reported in 2016.

She went into cardiac arrest and died after an “inexperienced” resident delayed treating her, sources alleged. Her family settled their lawsuit with a $350,000 payment a year later.

The vast majority of wrongful-death cases filed against the HHC in the last five years — 88 percent — remain open, leaving hundreds of bereaved families in financial limbo for years on end.

Of the 106 wrongful-death suits filed against HHC hospitals in 2014, 72 percent of them are still dragging through the courts.

In one of those open cases, doctors at Lincoln Hospital’s trauma center sent 25-year-old Kareem Cooley home in 2015 after cops saved him from jumping off a building, The Post reported at the time.

Staffers told him to seek out a walk-in clinic. Instead, Cooley killed himself.

The hospital, family members say, failed to do a suicide-risk evaluation or check a citywide database that showed Cooley had previously been hospitalized, at HHC’s Bellevue Hospital, after jumping in front of a train.

“He is gone because of what they did,” his weeping sister Latasha Cooley told The Post in 2015.

“They didn’t care. I could cry forever, and that won’t make the hospital care or change its policies.”

Grisel Soto, a 47-year-old grandma, died at Coney Island Hospital in 2016 after nurses mistook her meningitis symptoms as a side effect of an overdose of synthetic marijuana, family members said at the time.

Her husband, Jorge Matos, said hospital staffers told him that Soto was “going psycho because she’s been smoking,” then tranquilized her and tied her down with restraints instead of treating her rapidly spreading brain infection. The next day, she was dead.

“They treated her like a psych patient,” a family member said.

Betsy McCaughey, chair of the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, told The Post: “These are hospitals with consistently deficient care. The 468 unfortunate cases are a tiny fraction of the victims … These are people whose families had the wherewithal to bring a claim, but a far larger number are grieving in silence.”

Ten out of the HHC’s 11 hospitals have been given one-star ratings — the lowest on a five-star scale — by the federal government’s Hospital Compare service, an evaluation based on up to 57 quality measures. Only one, Metropolitan Hospital Center in Manhattan, can boast two stars.

The HHC is the nation’s largest public hospital system, with more than 70 locations, including its 11 acute-care hospitals. More than 1 million people a year are treated in the system, the primary health safety net for the city’s neediest.

Ana Marengo, a spokeswoman for the HHC, branded as NYC Health + Hospitals, said the system is improving “the quality of care delivered to our patients.”

“Today, our hospitals are doing much better in areas that are correlated to malpractice risk … These initiatives have resulted in a steady reduction in claims, including a $10 million drop in annual malpractice payouts in the last two years,” she said.

But the chronically underfunded network has been grappling with a fiscal crisis in recent years and has cut almost 5,000 jobs since 2015.

A 40-year-old man was killed at Coney Island Hospital in 2013 after being given the wrong blood type during a transfusion. The investigation into his death revealed mismanagement so acute that the hospital had to outsource its blood-type testing to Kings County Hospital six miles away.

The HHC “never gave it the funding, staffing, equipment, and leadership it needed to get better,” a former Coney Island resident wrote in The Post in 2016. “Heads only rolled when a particularly egregious case made headlines.”

Anthony T. DiPietro, a medical malpractice attorney who represented Georgia Thompson’s daughters, said, “What I see too often is that the hospitals don’t make necessary changes until they are hit with big verdicts.”

But not even heavy damages and tragic cases can scare the system straight, staffers say.

“You don’t know what it’s like here,” one despairing Lincoln Hospital staffer told probers investigating the Cooley case in 2015. “We don’t even behave like doctors here. We function more like social workers than doctors.”

Source: nypost.com

Date Posted: Monday, March 11th, 2019 , Total Page Views: 650

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