Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Just send cash

Insensitive hospital wants

money, even from the dead

First posted December 24, 2005

By David Baker

Lisa’s untimely death has prompted two separate lawsuits. But that hasn’t stopped Samaritan Hospital from asking her for a contribution to its fund-raising foundation.


At the end of last year - one year to the day after Lisa died - a letter addressed to Lisa was received from the Northeast Health Foundation., It asked for a donation.

On receiving this I sent a letter to its then-chairman, Richard Wallace, pointing out that Lisa had died while in the care of the hospital, and that a lawsuit was imminent. The letter asked Wallace to ensure that no further such communications were sent to Lisa or anyone at her address.

I received no response. Later, a copy of both the foundation’s letter and my reply to it were filed with the court in response to a demand for copies of correspondence.

Despite all that, the request was simply ignored. In mid December 2005, a letter addressed to Lisa from the foundation dated December 5 - the date of her funeral in 2003 - arrived. This letter, signed by current chairman John Scarchilli, also asked for a donation, saying that "... caring for our community is at the heart of everything we do."

This from the same organization that has claimed in legal papers that Lisa alone is to blame for the horrific injuries she received when - according to the hospital's own records - her blood sugar was allowed to drop to almost zero while she was a patient in its care.

And these communications weren't the only ones: In late 2003 Samaritan Hospital sent Lisa a different letter. It was one of those surveys, asking how well she thought she had been cared for while she was a patient.

She didn’t respond. She couldn’t because the letter arrived about a month after she had left Samaritan Hospital - dead.

Follow up: In December 2006 and after a third written request to remove Lisa's name, the foundation sent yet another fund-raising letter to Lisa. It took a strongly worded phone call to the foundation's staff to finally make them stop.

Friday, July 18, 2008

News not fit to print

Newspaper’s silence on lawsuits
may go beyond the Capital Region

By David Baker

This item first appeared here on August 5, 2007

A search of newspaper Web sites in cities in Texas, California and Washington state suggests that the Albany Times Union may not be the only Hearst Corp.-owned paper to ignore medical malpractice lawsuits.

A check of the achieves of its papers in San Antonio, San Francisco and Seattle has found no stories about claims against hospitals or doctors.

As was first reported here almost three years ago, the Times Union hasn’t reported such stories since the late 1990s, while at the same time running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising during that time for the area’s hospitals.

So it is a Hearst Newspapers policy to suppress claims of medical harm filed against its advertisers? Stay tuned.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reporter's shameful award

Healthcare company’s
newsletter tells the story

By David Baker
First posted on June 8, 2005

The discovery that the Albany Times Union, while running dozens of ads promoting a local healthcare company, has gone at least five years without reporting on even one of the many medical malpractice lawsuits filed against the company is disturbing enough. Now there is further evidence of just how the newspaper’s management has allowed itself to be bought by Northeast Health.

It’s in a copy of one of the healthcare company’s internal newsletters. On page 5 of this document – next to a piece that boasts about the company’s current media blitz – is the following item:


“In September, Northeast Health presented Times Union writer Lyrysa Smith with the 2004 President’s Award at the Annual Chairman’s Circle and Board Member Event held at Wolfert’s Roost Country Club. The award recognizes demonstrated commitment to the community and leadership in healthcare or community services.

“Smith is an award-wining journalist with nearly 20 years experience in the media. She has worked for ABC News, PBS and the A & E Network. She has also written extensively on many important healthcare issues since she the joined the Times Union in 2001.”

Smith evidently attended what obviously was a non-public event to collect her award. What was she thinking? And how can she – or anyone at the Times Union – write anything other than glowing praise about Northeast Health when this is the nature of the relationship between the newspaper and the company?

The newsletter – “NEH Update” – is just one of several publications put out by Northeast Health’s publicity department. This company spends a huge amount of money buying political and media influence and telling everyone just how wonderful it is. So now here’s a modest suggestion for Northeast Health:

Shut down the public-relations machine. Instead, spend the money on doing whatever it takes to ensure that never again will a diabetic patient be left to die in her hospital bed for want of a simple blood-sugar test and something to eat.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Medical providers face challenges

Hard times ahead
for area’s hospitals

By David Baker
Posted Monday, July 7, 2008

With raising energy prices and a slowing economy, many business are facing difficult times. But now hospitals in New York have some new problems to deal with, all of their own making.

First there is the decision by Medicare and several commercial insurers not to pay for treatment that results from so-called “never events.” These events include such things as operating on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, leaving a foreign object such as a surgical sponge inside a patient, and allowing bedsores to develop.

Another “never event,” one that the federal government is proposing to add to the list it will no longer pay for, is hypoglycemia when it starts while a person is in the care of a medical provider.

That is exactly what happened to Lisa in Samaritan Hospital in 2003, according to the hospital’s own records.

The insurers say the decision not to pay for never events is partly to save money, but mainly to force hospitals to reduce medical errors.

Until now, Capital Region hospitals have done nowhere near enough to cut the number of deaths and injuries. Instead they have allowed their liability insurers to fight every claim no matter how strong, while dispensing money liberally to compliant politicians and the media. They in turn have responded by keeping regulations weak and virtually every malpractice claim filed in the past 10 years out of the press.

Now they are going to lose money for these never events. Samaritan was paid $74,000 to treat Lisa in an intensive care unit in the three weeks from when she was injured to the day she died. The hospital still has that money and its liability insurer has refused to pay it back to Medicare as part of any settlement.

Another hurdle facing New York hospitals is a law passed in June that ends mandatory overtime for nurses. The passage of the law comes after a decade-long campaign by the New York State Nurses Association and others to end forced overtime, which they say has contributed to errors made by tired nurses and caused many of them to leave the profession.

Hospitals have until next July to recruit more nurses for the open shifts. Either that or close wards and thus reduce their income.

And now the area’s medical providers face another challenge, again of their own making: The prospect of having details of virtually every lawsuit filed against them over the past decade made easily available to the public.

This listing, announced elsewhere on this page, will change the way people think about medical care. They will realize just how dangerous a hospital is, and how the people who run them have been more concerned with avoiding the consequences of their mistakes than preventing them, and how willing elected officials and the media have been to hide the truth.

Maybe hospital managers still won’t acknowledge their mistakes. Maybe they won’t start apologizing.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be sorry.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wrong-site surgery

Hospital announces
a doctor's mistake

But it happened in Massachusetts, not New York. Read the Boston Globe story here

A tale of two deaths

Similar cases,
different stories

From the archives
This story first appeared here on August 18, 2006

By David Baker

The report on Aug. 17 that the state Health Department had stripped an emergency room doctor of his license is the first time that most people in the Capital Region would have heard of this case.

Except those who have been reading this blog. Details of one of the accusations of misconduct against the doctor have been reported here several times in the two years Answers For Lisa has been on the Web.

The former doctor is Louis Sidoti of Wynantskill. Sidoti worked at Albany Memorial Hospital and at St. Peter’s Hospital. He faced 17 allegations of misconduct.

One of them involved his treatment of then-58-year-old Joan A. Clark of Rensselaer. As was reported here in August of 2005, Clark had a personal and family history of heart problems. On April 8, 2002, she was taken to the emergency room at Albany Memorial Hospital complaining of back pain and vomiting. It is known that in women, back pain is often a symptom of a heart attack. But despite this, and her medical history, a doctor in the hospital’s emergency room – now known to be Sidoti – gave Clark a hurried examination – but not a normally routine EKG or blood work – and sent her home.

An hour later, Sidoti was pronouncing her dead after she collapsed just after getting home and was rushed back to the hospital in an ambulance.

A second post here later that month reported that the lawsuit brought by Joan Clark’s husband, Fred, had been settled.

The first posting pointed to the Clark case as an example of how Capital Region media – in this case, the Times Union – ignored this story, but had given extensive coverage to another case that was remarkably similar: that of a woman who died after medical personnel refused to respond to her complaints, over many hours, of extreme pain.

The woman, Laura Woolsey, had just been released from Ellis Hospital in
Schenectady after treatment for a heart condition.

In that case, the Times Union went all out: several stories over three days, and an editorial.

But the Clark case – even though Joan Clark’s husband is a well known former city councilman in Rensselaer – was never mentioned.

As was pointed out in the posting on this site, the only real difference in the case that was reported and the one that was ignored was that Woolsey was in the Schenectady County Jail at the time. The jail does not provide the Times Union with a steady stream of money for advertising: Northeast Health Inc., which owns both Memorial Hospital and Samaritan, does.

The real striking part of this story is that it is now clear that everybody involved – the hospital, the lawyers and the insurance company – knew right from the start that Sidoti’s treatment of Clark was far from the standard of care, and that she had died as a direct result of his incompetence. Yet they still denied responsibility, forcing Fred Clark to file a lawsuit and go through a legal battle before they settled the case three years later, in effect admitting their doctor had killed his wife.

In Lisa’s case, the first thing the hospital’s management did was to take everything out of her medical chart. Three days later her folder contained no records prior to her transfer from the room where she had been found, near death and with a with a blood sugar reading of just 2. As in the Clark case, they knew right then they had a problem. The first order of business was to hide it.

The next was to call the lawyers.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Penalty requst denied

Attorney avoids sanction
for late information

By David Baker
Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008

A request for a penalty against an attorney representing Samaritan Hospital for failing to provide information about blood glucose meters within the required 30 days was denied at a hearing this week.

My demand for the make and model of meters in use at the time Lisa was found in her hospital bed near death and – according to the hospital’s own records, with a glucose level at just 2 – was made back in April after the hospital’s attorneys claimed in a legal document that these meters are inaccurate at low glucose levels.

Lisa became partially conscious but unable to speak when sedation was removed three days after she collapsed on November 11, 2003. She then became completely unresponsive and died on December 2.

In their continuing defense of the lawsuit, the attorneys had a doctor claim in an affidavit that Lisa’s glucose level when she was found unconscious was really a safe 80 – even though she was immediately treated for severe hypoglycemia.

The doctor, Matthew Leinung of Albany Medical Center Hospital, claims to know that Lisa’s collapse was caused not by low blood sugar but by an abnormal heart beat.

He also asserts that rechecking blood sugar only once after an earlier episode of hypoglycemia, and not eating some complex carbohydrates – bread or crackers, after first stopping a glucose drop with rapidly absorbed orange juice – is not necessary, even though that is exactly what is called for in the hospital’s own written protocol on hypoglycemia, a protocol that one of the doctors treating Lisa had specifically ordered to be used if she became hypoglycemic.

Leinung’s assertion is not just wrong, it is dangerous. If followed, it will cause injury and death. And it shows just how far members of the medical profession will go to protect each other from the consequences of their actions. This affidavit will likely haunt Leinung for years to come.

The information about the glucose meters was finally provided by attorney Kathleen Ryan on June 17 – six weeks after it was requested and more than three weeks past the time allowed.

A judge has the authority to impose a penalty for such conduct but Supreme Court Justice Stephen Ferradino declined to do so.

Ferradino wasn’t so lenient with me. In 2006 he ordered me to pay $100 to each of three law firms representing the defendants after attorney Stephen Coffey ignored Ferradino’s written instructions to notify the defense attorneys that he, Coffey, was reviewing the case with a view to taking it over. The money was for costs incurred by the attorneys in preparing and serving motions to have the case dismissed, motions they probably would not have served if they had received a letter from Coffey.

I paid the money to the defendants. Coffey said he would reimburse me but he did not do so until I had sued him in Small Claims Court, gone to a trial and then threatened to enforce the judgment I obtained from the court.