Posted on Jul 16, 2007
City on kid's death: Mistakes do happen
Hospital agency won't hit docs at Woodhull
Sunday, July 15th 2007, 4:00 AM
Anna Gloria River died at Brooklyn's Woodhull Hospital, below, in 1998 due to malpractice by the staff.
Health and Hospital Corp. President Allen Aviles defended Woodhull Hospital, saying that while 'mistakes happen,' the city's hospitals perform well above the average.
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The president of the city's Health and Hospitals Corp. is defending Woodhull Hospital's decision not to discipline the emergency room doctors and nurses found liable for malpractice in the tragic 1998 death of a 10-year-old asthmatic girl.
"Mistakes are going to happen," HHC President Allen Aviles said. "Is it the right initial decision to nail one of these physicians to the wall if the other years of their lives they saved many patients in a similar context?"
Throughout the country, "medical errors occur far too often," Aviles said, but city-owned hospitals "perform well above the average" for New York.
To demonstrate his commitment to improving HHC's quality of care, Aviles said his agency will begin this month to post data on its Web site detailing patient deaths and hospital-acquired infections for each of its facilities.
The HHC chief was responding to last week's Daily News report that the parents of Anna Gloria Rivera, the dead 10-year-old, were furious that none of the emergency room staff who botched their daughter's treatment were disciplined. All of them are still employed at Woodhull.
Aviles refused to comment on the specifics of the case. He offered special praise, however, for Maurice Wright, the director of Woodhull's emergency room for nearly two decades. Wright, who oversees both the adult and pediatric emergency units, was on duty the morning that Anna Rivera died and participated in a "Code Blue" when hospital staff frantically tried to revive the girl.
A jury found Woodhull and its staff 40% responsible for Anna's death; a pediatrician, Adedokun Akinyooye, 35% responsible; and it assigned Wright 5% culpability for "failing to ensure that Woodhull Hospital employees followed good and accepted medical practice."
"Maurice Wright is one of the most decent, skilled emergency doctors you will ever want to meet," Aviles said.
Despite his many years as Woodhull's ER director, Wright is not board certified in either emergency medicine or pediatric emergency medicine. His only board certification is in internal medicine.
Board certification is the best indication a doctor has passed the most rigorous training in his or her speciality.
State law permits doctors who are not board certified in emergency or pediatric emergency medicine to run hospital emergency rooms. But several veteran emergency doctors say it is highly unusual for the head of a city emergency room not to be board certified in emergency medicine.
"Board certification was part of the basic standards we recommended for emergency room heads 20 years ago," said Dr. Harold Osborne, the former chief of emergency at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. Osborne headed for many years a citywide committee that audited and set standards for all emergency rooms in the 911 system.
"I don't know of any hospital in the city where the director of emergency medicine is not board certified," said Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, the renowned chief of Bellevue's emergency room.
But at HHC headquarters, they see things differently.
"It is not uncommon for chairs of departments to have certification in one general area while supervising a number of additional areas under the practice," said HHC spokeswoman Anna Marengo. "Dr. Wright has more than the required certification, and is a fully qualified, experienced, dedicated and highly regarded emergency medicine physician."
Last month, a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury awarded $3.5 million to Frances and Abel Rivera for Woodhull's medical malpractice. Testimony during the eight-week trial revealed Woodhull staff committed a mind-boggling series of errors after an ambulance brought the girl to the emergency room in December 1998 with an acute asthma attack.
Doctors inserted a breathing tube down her throat without sufficient sedatives, tied her hands and feet to a bed, and left her bucking and flailing for an hour.
Akinyooye then mistakenly pulled out the tracheal tube and had to reinsert it, and other staff blew out her lung while administering oxygen too rapidly.
When she became unresponsive, Akinyooye and others injected her with too much epinephrine in an effort to revive her.
Once she was declared dead, no doctor would talk to the parents. Instead, security guards removed the distraught father from the hospital and Woodhull's risk management staff scooped up all the medical records - some of which later disappeared.