Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A duty abandoned


Publisher’s conflict 
leaves readers uninformed

By David Baker
Posted June 18, 2014
668 words

George Randolph Hearst, III is a man with two masters.

One is readers of the newspaper, the Albany, N.Y. Times Union, of which he is publisher.

The other is St. Peter’s Heath Partners, Inc., which, following a recent merger, operates four hospitals, several nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and clinics in the Albany area in upstate New York, and where Hearst has a seat on the board.

Hearst can’t serve both of them.  It’s a huge conflict of interest.

Staff in medical facilities make mistakes. People get hurt. Some of them die.  Lawsuits are filed. A lot of them.

But readers of Hearst’s newspaper would never know it.  For 14 years the paper has been silent on dozens of cases, some alleging wrongful death or catastrophic injuries, many of them quietly settled on the eve of trial after years of litigation.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no mention of the medical organization in the Times Union. Just the opposite. Every day the paper runs ads, both in print and online, promoting the medical group as competent and caring.

Those ads bring in a significant stream of revenue.  Meanwhile, its readers are kept in the dark about dozens of claims alleging negligence and malpractice.

The are only two things these hospital executives care about: money and their public image.  Patient safety is, at best, a distance third.  So they spend an enormous amount of money buying media silence, a silence which in turn allows them to fight every claim of patient harm – even when they know they are liable – and put victims or their families through the second anguish of a legal battle, without any damage to their paid-for public image.

A publisher who hadn’t abandoned his paper’s core function of informing the public would publish stories about some of these claims. The hospitals would then have only one way to avoid the damage to their image:  Do every possible to stop the harm and, when it does occur, admit it and offer compensation.

But Hearst chooses instead to place profit above the public good.  Lawsuits against medical providers aren’t mentioned, no matter how unusual the allegations.

Publishing details of at least some of these lawsuits would benefit the public in several ways.

First, it would be an incentive for medical providers to put an emphasis on patient safety, rather than, as now, on routinely denying responsibility. Without it, the providers and their lawyers – who earn fees for defending cases, not for settling them – can and do fight claims right up to the eve of trial, out of public view. Thanks to the media, the providers’ false image of being competent and caring remains intact.

Second, victims of medical errors or – if the error was fatal, their families – would be spared the stress of a long and punishing legal battle. Even when providers eventually settle, it is often with no acknowledgment of wrongdoing, so the closure that can come only with a full explanation of what went wrong and some indication that steps will be taken to avoid a repeat is denied.

Finally, the silence of the media has a financial impact.  The costs of defending claims are paid by insurance carriers.  These are passed on to the providers in higher premiums, which are then added to hospitals’ and doctors’ bills. Ultimately the public pays to defend these claims – as well as the much higher amount often needed to settle a claim after years of litigation.

But George Randolph Hearst III is unconcerned about any of this.  Without even a pretense of journalist independence or integrity, his has his newspaper endlessly promote an organization it should be holding accountable.  He sits on the company's governing board. He chairs a fundraising effort for a new building at one of its hospitals, an organization from which his newspaper receives a steady stream of revenue that it would not get if it was carrying out its core function of informing the public.

The TU’s editorial writers frequently lecture about the corrupting influence of money and special interests. They don’t have far to look for a perfect example.


Doctor quoted in ad is named in lawsuit

The formal opening of the Hearst Pavilion at St. Peter’s Hospital on June 10 was marked with a 16-page brochure on glossy paper, delivered as an insert in the Times Union. Filled with photographs and glowing descriptions of the hospital, it quotes, on page 8, St. Peter’s chief of cardiac and vascular services, Niloo Edwards.

Visitors to this site might recognize that name; an exclusive story posted here on March 28 said that Edwards is a defendant in an active lawsuit filed by John Carp, who developed a life-threatening bedsore following bypass surgery at the hospital.

A paragraph in that story said: “Carp’s attending physician at St. Peter’s Hospital, Niloo Edwards, allegedly failed to recognize that Carp was at high risk of developing an ulcer or that an ulcer had appeared before Carp was discharged.”

According to the suit, Carp was later transferred to the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Center in Niskayuna – now also operated by St. Peter’s Health Partners – where another doctor also allegedly failed to properly treat the ulcer.

 –David Baker


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