Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Culture change

It’s time to expose an open secret

Revealing alleged medical injuries and the
 efforts to hide then will permanently change
 how hospitals and the media are viewed

By David Baker
Posted 31 July, 2013
1,057 words

From the moment I became aware that the media in the Capital Region was suppressing all allegations of medical negligence against its advertisers I knew that this was something that had to be exposed.

That moment came on a Sunday in September 2004 – less than a year after my wife, Lisa, who had type 1 diabetes, had died in Samaritan Hospital in Troy, NY. from injuries that her death certificate listed as  “profound hypoglycemia.”

Lisa had been found in her hospital bed three weeks earlier, near death with a blood glucose level near zero.  This is what would later be called a ‘never event’ – which is  “patient death or serious disability associated with hypoglycemia, the onset of which occurs while the patient is being cared for in a healthcare facility.”  Had it happened to Lisa five years later, Samaritan Hospital would almost certainly not have received the $74,000 insurance money it was paid – and still has –  for the three weeks she was in a coma in intensive care before she died.

And incredibly, far from never happening, seven months later another Samaritan patient, Alec MacKenzie, died in almost identical circumstances. At Northeast Health hospitals it seems that never events never happen – except when they do, such as leaving a surgical sponge inside a patient as was alleged in a lawsuit against Samaritan’s sister hospital, Albany Memorial, that settled on the first day of trial in 2008.

As I turned the pages of the Times Union that day in 2004, I saw five quarter-page advertisements for Northeast Health – four of them in just one section.

And I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a story about a medical-malpractice lawsuit against any of the hospitals in the area.

After 10 minutes logged into the online archive of the Times Union, I knew why I couldn’t recall any such story;  there hadn’t been a single one in six years.

But a search of  the state Unified Court System’s web page for lawsuits in Albany and Rensselaer counties produced a long list of cases alleging medical negligence filed against Northeast Health facilities and the other hospitals in the two counties – Albany Medical Center Hospital, St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s.

So that week I wrote to Rex Smith – who was and still is the editor of the Times Union – and to David White, who was then its publisher.  I described what I had discovered and asked for a comment.

I received no response.

Later, in 2008, I began going to the county clerk’s offices in Troy and Albany armed with the index numbers of  lawsuits that named medical providers in the area.  If the allegations were newsworthy, I made a copy of the complaint.

The information in these documents is the basis for the dozens of stories about lawsuits now on my web page and blog – none of which have ever been mentioned by the area’s newspapers.

Most newspapers have at least one reporter who regularly checks court filings for stories.  At the Times Union, one of the reporters is legal correspondent  Robert Gavin.  Gavin clearly has been aware of the lawsuits filed against the area’s medical providers but has ignored them, evidently knowing that even if he wrote a story it wouldn’t be printed – making him as corrupt as the management of the paper that employs him.

In the past four years, I have made further efforts to get a response from the management of the Times Union.  One of those attempts was a letter sent in July 2011 to Times Union publisher George R. Hearst III and then Northeast Health CEO James K. Reed in which I explained why publishing details of at least some of the allegations in these lawsuits is in the public interest.  I asked that the hospital operator start acknowledging mistakes when they occurred and stop routinely fighting every claim, and that the management of the Times Union start reporting claims against the area’s medical providers.  The letter was sent on the same day that unknown to me, Northeast Health filed a lawsuit against me (now resolved) seeking an injunction and damages over my use of a domain name and a logo.

My hope with the letter was that it would convince the newspaper’s management to put the public’s interest ahead of its financial gain.  But there was no response and now, two years later it’s clear that the steady stream of advertising revenue from the medical providers is much more important to the Hearst Corporation than fulfilling its responsibility to the public.

The full text of that letter can be downloaded from my page, a link to which appears below.

The MacKenzie case – the one that was a repeat of what happened to Lisa – was settled in 2007 for $125,000.  E. Stewart Jones filed the lawsuit, calling the case one of  “absolute liability” then agreed to reduce his legal fee from 30 percent of the settlement to 20 percent – $21,000 instead of approximately $31,500.  This apparently was a professional courtesy; Alec MacKenzie’s daughter, Melody MacKenzie, one of two beneficiaries, is a lawyer, as is her husband, Philip Gitlen.  After payment of a Medicare lien of $13,000 MacKenzie and a brother each received $42,350 from the settlement.

But Samaritan’s lawyers offered only $25,000 to settle Lisa’s case. When it was rejected they probably paid it to Matthew Leinung, a doctor at Albany Medical Center Hospital, to state in an affidavit that nurses who ignored a physician’s written order to use the hospital’s printed protocol for treating hypoglycemia did not depart from the standard of care.

Since then, more patients have died and many more have been injured as a result of avoidable mistakes in the area’s hospitals, while the media counts the money and looks the other way.

Now its time to hold them accountable.  Now it’s time to expose this willful abandonment of duty and, at the same time, permanently change the public’s perception of both the area’s media and its medical providers.

A  newspaper indicted: Why the Times Union is no better than the corrupt politicians it lectures to in its pages. letter

In early 2013, the corporate bodies operating four of the five hospitals in Albany and Rensselaer counties – Northeast Health, (Samaritan in Troy and Albany Memorial), Seton Health (St. Mary in Troy) and St. Peter’s Healthcare Service (St. Peter’s in Albany) – merged under a single governing organization called St. Peter’s Health Partners.  Albany Medical Center Hospital remains a separate entity.