Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Awaiting the next step


August 12, 2009

Dear Mr. Smith:

The publication in the Times Union this week of the investigative feature “Dead By Mistake” is very welcome. It already has started a renewed national discussion of patient safety, a topic that profoundly effects every person in this country.

And its publication is all the more surprising given that your paper – and, my research shows, others published by the Hearst Corporation – have for years ignored the issue.

You may recall that I wrote a detailed letter to you back in September 2004, in which I explained that I had become aware that since 1997 the Times Union had not reported a single medical malpractice lawsuit filed against medical providers in its circulation area – providers whose paid advertisements were appearing in large numbers in your paper. The suggestion was that you were refusing to print any bad news about entities that are a source of significant revenue.

I asked both you and then-publisher David P. White for a comment on this very serious allegation. I received no response.

Since August 2004 I have run a weblog on which, among many other items, I have published details of some of the many medical malpractice lawsuits your paper ignored.

By refusing to inform the public of these medical malpractice lawsuits, you joined medical providers, the legal profession and many politicians in a conspiracy; A conspiracy that benefited each participant but almost certainly allowed deaths and injuries that were avoidable, but which with immunity from publicity the medical providers had less incentive to prevent.

One of those deaths that might have been prevented but for your silence was that of someone you knew when she worked as a reporter at your former newspaper in Troy: My wife, Lisa Baker.

As I said in that 2004 letter, you allowed the providers to present themselves as competent, caring and honest, when as the “Dead By Mistake” project shows, in many cases they are anything but that.

For several months I have been planning to change that false perception. I have announced on my weblog that I will soon launch and aggressively promote a new web page that will list virtually every medical malpractice lawsuit filed against Capital Region providers since 1999, together with a weekly listing of new filings.

It would be hard to overstate the impact this will have on the staff and management of these medical facilities. But the end result should be a change in the way “bad outcomes” are handled. The days of a flat denial by medical providers as a standard response, no matter how obvious the liability, will be over. Finally, and very reluctantly, they will do the right thing.

Now, with the publication of a major project on the issue of patient safety, the Hearst Corporation has taken a step toward making that happen.

The question now is: Will it follow through?

Will you now report the filing of at least some of the lawsuits alleging medical malpractice by providers in your circulation area?

Will you describe for your readers how medical providers routinely put error victims through a second anguish by using an army of lawyers funded by huge insurance company resources to fight almost every claim – even in cases where the providers and their insurer’s experts have privately acknowledged that the providers were responsible for the harm?

That is the real test. You have eloquently described the problem. But that has been done before, with no more than a lot of talk – followed by even more avoidable deaths and injuries.

This time has to be different. Now, better late than never, will you be a part of a solution?

Very truly yours,

David Baker

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