Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Monday, June 30, 2014

A costly silence


Transcripts reveal
an absence of truth

Posted June 30, 2014
637 words

Documents in yet another lawsuit show – these ones in clear detail – a stunning lack of competency and integrity in nursing staff and management at a hospital run by Northeast Health, Inc. (which is now a part of St. Peter’s Health Partners).  As is described in the story above, two nurses testified under oath that they didn’t know an incident in which a patient received a serious injury had to be reported to management, and that the patient’s family had to be informed.

They didn’t do either.  What staff members did do was lie to the family, telling them for three weeks that Leonard Guyette had a bedsore, not a huge burn from a cold pack that had been filled with hot water, an act which itself – applying heat to a patient without a physician’s direct order – was also a violation of the hospital’s procedures.

One of the consequences of this coverup was that the family was denied the opportunity to immediately transfer Mr. Guyette to a burn unit, where specialized treatment might have lessened the severity of his injury.

The result was a claim for both compensation and for punitive damages, the second claim being added after the coverup was revealed during pretrial discovery.

The management of these hospitals learns nothing and forgets nothing. Consider the following instances of alleged harm, all from cases reported on this blog:

* An attending physician's orders and the organization’s own written protocols are ignored prior to the death of a patient with diabetes; seven months later exactly the same thing precedes the death of another diabetic. Both patients had dangerously low blood glucose levels recorded in their charts.

 * A doctor’s orders and hospital protocols are ignored before a serious injury and permanent disfigurement is inflicted on a patient following surgery to repair a leg fracture.

 * A patient dies after a doctor and then a nurse separately disregard a requirement that they flush out blood thinner from a medication dispenser.

 * A patient chokes to death after staff ignore a nothing-by-mouth order.

And now, once again, despite overwhelming evidence of its liability, Northeast Health fought the Guyette claim, generating fees for its attorneys and then, days before trial, had its insurer pay out far more than would have been needed to settle immediately.  All of which, through higher medial bills that reflect higher malpractice insurance premiums, are ultimately paid by the public.

The records in this case fill a large cardboard box in the Rensselaer County clerk’s office. Medical records, motions and transcripts of the depositions are all there, none of which would be available to the public if the case had been settled early.

But in 2007 no one was publishing details of these lawsuits. The area’s newspapers, replete every day with ads for Northeast Health (and now St. Peter’s Health Partners), simply ignore suits against advertisers, no matter how serious the allegations or how large the eventual settlement.  Over the past 14 years the management of Northeast Health/St. Peter’s Health Partners have fought dozens of lawsuits, safe in the knowledge that the organization's reputation is protected by a corupted media that has totally abandoned its stated mission of gathering and disseminating information that is in the public interest.

One of the members of St. Peter’s Health Partners’ board – and a major fund-raiser for the recent multi-million dollar addition to St. Peter’s Hospital – is George R. Hearst, the publisher of the area’s largest newspaper, the Albany Times Union. The managements of the area’s two other daily newspapers are in lockstep with Hearst; they also ignore lawsuits alleging medical harm.

These entities – and the law firms that litigate the claims – benefit from this conspiracy of silence.  Meanwhile, patients continue to be harmed by negligence and avoidable errors.

The public is the loser.  And it’s the public that is paying for it all.