Monday, November 26, 2007

People Vs. OPMC

In late 2000, a group of us visited with the OPMC, Office of Professional Medical Conduct in New York City to discuss the unfairness of the group’s cases of what they felt were medical misconduct. The cases were closed by the OPMC and in our opinion, unfairly so.

I met earlier with the person in charge who invited me to bring members of PULSE to present their case and maybe they would be reopened. I spent many long hours investigating cases, reviewing backgrounds and information given to me that I believed was an obvious oversight, or perhaps purposely left out of the cases that were reviewed by the OPMC. I worked with the patient, and sometimes surviving family members to review the information and draw up the correct information to be presented, this time with the patients’ side of the story.

We met with a fairly large group of OPMC staff and each participant got to share their concerns. We presented information that we felt was important to each case. In one case, a patient found a letter to another doctor in her medical file asking her next doctor to lie were he to be called in as a witness. This was submitted to the OPMC. In another case, I used research by the doctor in question that said no one should use the medication prescribed for this patient. The doctor recommended a series of treatments to the elderly patient that this doctor himself suggested should never be used – ultimately killing the patient.

When we left the meeting, I was told by the people there that the OPMC needs a lot of work. “It’s people like you”, one person in charge told me, “that can get things done”.

We trusted that these cases would be reopened as it was early in my advocacy career and I still had faith in the system. Weeks went by and each participant received a letter that read that the case is still closed. No further investigation was in order.

Months later, I was invited to give testimony about the work of the OPMC. I brought some of these people with me but was most surprised when the first panel gave testimony and one of the legislators said to the OPMC staff “you were pleased with the way you operate. You thought you were doing the state a service and you quoted various indicators that nationally you were recognized as doing a good job.”

The staff person now had an opportunity to suggest changes, but he didn’t. He protected his job while putting patients in harm’s way. “He lied to me” I thought. I later saw him in the hallway and he began to share pleasantries. “You lied to me or you lied under oath” I told him. I was soon to learn how the OPMC ran.

Now today, many years later, Dr. Harvey Finkelstein of Plainview is in the news. The doctor broke some rules, the OPMC investigated and the public is not permitted to know what he did, what the OPMC did, what was found or how it was handled. We have to assume that the state has our best interest in mind - but I think we know better. Actually, the whole thing makes me physically sick.

1 comment:

luvnee said...

I am a mom who lost her only child due to a servere surgical error. My daughter was 20 years old and was under the care of a cardiologist, since she was six weeks old. She had open-heart surgery, when she was 11 months old and did very well. She had a pacemaker put in at about age 11 and did very well. She did dance classes from 3-12 years old, did cheerleading in highschool and was very active. Summer, 2003, my daughter was informed by her cardiologist, that she needed her aortic valve replaced because it was leaking alot. She told my daughter not to wait because she was asymptomatic. Her cardiologist had her call the surgeons office and my daughter was told that they would have to call her back because the surgeon did not have any time to see her. The surgeons office did call back after some time and scheduled a pre-op meeting with the surgeon, which was set for only two days before the scheduled surgery. The evening before the pre-op visit with the surgeon, his office called to cancel the check-up, saying he did not have time to meet her.

My daughter did go into the hospital two days later, for aortic valve replacement. The surgeon was recommended by the cardiologist of 20 years, so we trusted that he was the best. Prior to surgery, the cardiologist told my daughter and myself about the different methods that are used to replace the valve. Prior to surgery, my daughter talked to people who had the surgery and she felt very at ease getting the surgery, because so many people did so well with aortic valve replacement, which is what my daughter signed the surgical consent form for.

When the surgeon came out of surgery, and this was the first time that I was ever meeting him, he told us that he repaired the valve instead of replacing it, but that there was still a small leak. She went into the surgery and came out with the same valve, that should have been replaced. There was nothing physically wrong with my daughter, preventing the valve from being replaced. My daughters' cardiologist was there when the surgeon told us about the repair and she seemed okay with it, so we thought it was okay.

As with my daughter never pre-surgically meeting the surgeon, he never saw her once post-surgically either. He had a million strange doctors checking post-surgery. Five days post-surgery, a doctor who we never even met, released my daughter from the hospital with an irregular respiration rate of 28, when it was normally about 16, and she had a collapsed lung, for which she was given a plastic thing to breathe into to inflate her lung.

Three weeks post open-heart surgery, the sutures came out of the repaired aortic valve, and the valve burst. My daughter suffered a heart attack. She was at her college at the time, three hours away from me. She was rushed into the hospital by her college and the surgeon did emergency aortic valve replacement successfully. Five days later my daughter died. The heart damage that she suffered from the heart attack, when the valve burst was just too much.

I contacted an attorney who seemed to be handling the case everytime I called to make sure things were moving along. One month prior to the statute of limitation, the attorney informed me that he was not taking the case.

I contacted the OPMC, regarding the surgeon and in reference to what occured. They eventually contacted me and told me that the surgeon had the right to decide what to do during the surgery. There was not one thing to prevent the surgeon from replacing my daughters aortic valve, yet the surgeon just decided not to do it. And I was told that that was okay. I lost my only child and my entire life, because of this surgeon. She was 20 years old with a whole future in front of her. She was asymptomatic when she went in for aortic valve replacement and because it was not performed, she died. Where is the justice in this? There is no justice in this. And to think, my daughter never even met the man who took her life. She never met him once, other then when she was already under anesthesia. Nothing about the whole surgical procedure, or before and after it was right. Her and my entire rights were violated.