Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

No contest

Public-interest information
loses out to advertisers’ cash

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday Feb. 19, 2014
633 words

It was back in 2008 that details of malpractice lawsuits filed against Capital District medical facilities first appeared on this site. Since then dozens of such claims have been posted here. The allegations vary but all of them have one thing in common;  None of them have been reported by the area’s newspapers.

The range of claims goes from preventable falls, to deaths that would not have occurred but for someone’s negligence. Obviously, a daily newspaper is not going to report every claim that results in a lawsuit.  But details of a settled lawsuit in which it was alleged that a object was left in a patient – which is a so-called “never event” – certainly is information that a newspaper should disseminate.

So are details of lawsuits that indicate a pattern of negligence – such as when two patients die in almost identical circumstances. With it, people can make a informed decision on where to go for care.

But with an assurance from the newspapers of silence on even the most egregious alleged malpractice there is no accountability and little incentive to change dangerous conditions.  Instead, the area’s newspapers, whose stated mission is to disseminate information of public interest, have for the past 14 years ignored such claims while the medical providers have poured a steady stream of money into those newspapers’ coffers.

The most revealing of all the lawsuits reported here are the ones involving former gynecologist Akiva Abraham. Abraham is now in prison, but for years he was allowed to practice at Samaritan Hospital despite overwhelming evidence that he was medically and morally unfit.  Some of these indications were available to reporters, and all of them certainly would have been revealed to the hospital if it had done even a cursory check of his background.

But public documents show that either no check was done, or that evidence of Abraham’s sordid history was ignored each time his Samaritan Hospital privileges were renewed.

Once such indication was a $1.5 million lawsuit Abraham filed in 2000 against St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy after he was fired for falsifying a medical record.  That lawsuit – never mentioned by the papers – revealed that Abraham had previously been disciplined for falsifying a medical record at Albany Medical Center Hospital.  Documents filed during the litigation showed Abraham had made false statements on his application for privileges at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Samaritan Hospital had to know about Abraham’s lawsuit because it was served with a subpoena for its own file on Abraham. But still it allowed him to continue practicing in its facility.

Eventually, Samaritan Hospital – or, more specifically, ultimately the public through higher insurance premiums added to medical bills – paid the price of these decisions.  In 2012, the hospital settled a 2006 lawsuit brought by an injured patient in which it was accused of negligently granting Abraham staff privileges.

A story on that lawsuit, as unusual and as revealing as it is, should have run in a prime spot on the front page in a Sunday edition. But the entire case was  ignored, even as over the six years of litigation the newspapers between them printed dozens of stories about Abraham’s other problems.

So the newspapers and the hospitals benefit from what can only be called a legal conspiracy. The papers receive the ad revenue; the hospitals avoid publicity that would certainly change their image of being competent and caring.

And then there are the reporters who certainly know of the cozy arrangement, particularly the writers whose beat include the courts. They see legal complaints and appeal decisions and surely must recognize the significance of cases like one against Abraham and Samaritan Hospital.  But knowing that no story would be published they move on to stories that affect no one but the immediate participants, happy in their delusion that they are real, ethical journalists.

The Akiva Abraham stories and many others are at: