Monthly Archives: June 2005

Hospital Medical Mistakes Cited in Marine’s Death

Tragic and unnecessary death of Marine hero demonstrates need for better medical accountability for malpractice in hospitals.

TODAY’S ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

TAMPA – Investigators say the death last year of a 21-year-old Marine at James A. Haley VA Medical Center might have been prevented if doctors had conducted more thorough tests.
Investigators also said that the VA and the Department of Defense should use the findings by the VA inspector general to better educate doctors on how to treat the type of “blast injury” that has become prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking of troops injured in the war zone, investigators said they found no evidence that Haley’s acute care staff, “including its specialty medical and surgical consultants, had been properly prepared for these patients.”
Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Gadsden of Jamestown, S.C., was severely injured in Iraq last August by a roadside bomb. He was on the mend at Haley and was tentatively scheduled to be discharged, but he died unexpectedly of bacterial meningitis Oct. 22.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Doctors at Haley failed to diagnose the condition before his death, the report said.
“An underlying theme that emerges is that many of the (Haley) clinical staff simply did not grasp how inherently fragile this patient was,” the report released Wednesday said, resulting in “less intensive diagnostic evaluations.”
A doctor who cared for Gadsden told investigators that he now has a better appreciation for patients who have been injured in Iraq.
In response to the findings, a peer review at Haley concluded that even if doctors had done everything right, Gadsden’s head and body injuries were so extensive that “he was therefore facing a 70 percent mortality risk.”
Gadsden’s family, which has been critical of Haley, could not be reached for comment.
But Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who helped push for the investigation, was not happy with the treatment Gadsden received.
“Obviously, some things were overlooked in Gadsden’s case,” the Indian Shores Republican said Thursday. “Had things been thoroughly investigated, his life could have been saved.”
Young noted that doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., have successfully treated cases of meningitis. Young has asked VA Secretary Jim Nicholson to review the quality of care at Haley.
In a statement, Haley spokeswoman Carolyn Clark said that the hospital had implemented improvements recommended by the inspector general, such as having better communication between the VA and military hospitals.
When Gadsden was admitted to Haley on Sept. 30, he appeared to be doing fine.
According to the first progress note that afternoon, clinicians found him “to be alert, cooperative and oriented to person, place, month, and year.”
“He reported having a good appetite, and denied having any pain while lying at rest.”
During his stay at Haley, Gadsden complained of intermittent abdominal and back pain. On Sunday, Oct. 17, he appeared “shaking and restless,” but was granted a day pass.
“The pass included a visit to a Wal-Mart, the mother’s hotel room and a fast food establishment,” investigators said.
Zeada Gadsden did not describe any unusual symptoms in her son during the outing. But that evening, after Gadsden returned to the hospital, staff noticed “increased confusion” and “increased tremor/shaking, restless.”
A resident recommended a neurosurgery consultation, but canceled it several hours later.
Investigators said Gadsden’s condition worsened and he hallucinated. On Oct. 19, he suffered cardiopulmonary arrest and other complications.
A followup exam concluded that “the patient had suffered severe anoxic brain injury, i.e., injury due to prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain.”
He was clinically brain dead, the report said.
On Oct. 22, at 2:15 a.m., with his family at his side, Gadsden was taken off the ventilator.
He died five minutes later.
In general, investigators said the quality of care Gadsden received at Haley was “high.” But there were problems – not all of them Haley’s fault. For example, Haley said it did not receive Gadsden’s complete medical file from Bethesda, which would have shown earlier complications.
Investigators also found that once Gadsden’s condition began to deteriorate, Haley doctors did not conduct thorough exams. For example, he was seen only once by an infectious diseases specialist before Oct. 19, the day he went into cardiopulmonary arrest.
The infectious diseases section response “lacked depth of research into the patient’s recent medical history and did not provide more than a general outline of how to proceed with the evaluation and management of this most complex patient,” the report said.
It added, “The plan that was provided did not adequately consider the possibility that this patient could have an infection in the central nervous system, even though the patient had sustained skull and brain injury that had required recent neurosurgery.”
A review of earlier medical exams at Bethesda “should have altered the diagnostic evaluation and treatment plan and may have changed the clinical outcome in this case,” the report said.
Gadsden’s confused mental state also should have been a warning sign, investigators said.
Investigators concluded that the Haley staff was not sufficiently trained in the type of blast injuries seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and recommended that the VA provide additional training for staff nationwide on blast injury patients.
Dr. Jonathan Perlin, VA undersecretary for health, responded in the report that additional training – in conjunction with the Department of Defense – already was under way.

Accused Priest Working at Miami VA Hospital

Priest once accused of sex abuse is working at Miami VA hospital
BY ALEXANDRA ALTER
aalter@herald.com
A Catholic priest accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1970s began work this week as a chaplain at the Miami Veteran Affairs Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The Rev. Brian Bjorklund, a Roman Catholic priest since 1966, was removed from ministry by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2003. The church placed Bjorklund on administrative leave as it investigated an allegation that he committed sexual misconduct with a minor during his early years in the clergy. Bjorklund was working as a Navy chaplain in California at the time of his suspension.
In February 2004, the Vatican restored Bjorklund to the priesthood, stating that the alleged victim was not considered to be a minor under church law in the 1970s.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said his group will contact the VA hospital and Miami Archbishop John Favalora to seek Bjorklund’s removal from ministry.
”We’re very troubled,” he said. “It’s shocking to have an accused molester who has been rejected by his home diocese wind up with the VA in Miami.”
Susan Ward, a spokeswoman for the VA hospital, confirmed that Bjorklund began work Tuesday. She said the hospital conducted a criminal background check and nothing came up. She noted that the hospital treats only veterans, not juveniles.
Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami archdiocese, said Bjorklund does not have priestly faculties under the archdiocese of Miami and must undergo a background check before he is granted those powers.

Wyeth Says Jury Awards Diet-Drug Users $200 Million

May 27 (Bloomberg) — A Pennsylvania jury decided that two former users of Wyeth’s drugs taken as part of the fen-phen diet combination deserved $200 million in damages for heart problems caused by the medicine.
Jurors in state court in Philadelphia on May 24 found that Wyeth’s weight-loss medicine scarred Margie Paul’s and Elaine Karician’s hearts and that they were entitled to $100 million each in damages, Wyeth said in a statement. Jurors must still decide whether Wyeth is liable for the women’s damages.
Paul’s and Karician’s trial was the latest in Philadelphia to focus on claims concerning Wyeth’s now-withdrawn diet drugs. Over the past 10 months, other Philadelphia juries have rejected claims by former users or said individuals who once used the appetite suppressant deserved as much as $500,000.
“I think that Philadelphia juries are beginning to understand the significance of the damage these drugs have done to people’s hearts and are awarding appropriate damages,” said George Fleming, a lawyer who has represented former fen-phen users in Philadelphia cases. He didn’t represent Paul or Karician.
The phase of the case where jurors will determine whether Madison, New Jersey-based Wyeth is liable for the damages has been delayed until July 25, the company said in the statement.
Settlement Talks
“The damage awards are excessive and completely unsupported by the evidence and are inconsistent with other recent cases in Philadelphia,” said Lawrence V. Stein, a senior vice president and the company’s general counsel, in the statement.
While the jury returned the verdict May 24, the judge in the case sealed the finding. Steven J. Kherkher, one of Paul’s and Karician’s lawyers, couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
Wyeth said that they were in settlement negotiations with Paul’s and Karician’s lawyers to resolve the cases as part of a global resolution of the law firms’ remaining inventory of fen- phen claims.
The verdict, which Wyeth said in court papers is “almost 100 times any prior” fen-phen verdict in Philadelphia, is likely to cause concern among investors in the company, said Jake Dollarhide, a money manager who invests in drug companies.
`Won’t Rest’
“It poses a huge risk to Wyeth and their long road back to recovery,” said Dollarhide, chief executive of Longbow Asset Management Co. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in a telephone interview today. Longbow owns shares of Wyeth competitors including Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.
“The fen-phen matter just won’t rest. It’s got to be concerning them a great deal,” Dollarhide added. “The issue resurfaces time and time again. The fen-phen matter has legs.”
Wyeth has been working to resolve the remainder of its fen- phen liability across the country. The company faces a trial of the first of more than 5,000 fen-phen claims filed in New Jersey starting May 31.
Wyeth said on Jan. 31 that it would add $4.5 billion to its reserve to cover legal liability in the so-called fen-phen cases, bringing to $21.1 billion the amount set aside to resolve the litigation. Wyeth incurred a $1.76 billion fourth-quarter loss due to the reserve increase.
Pondimin and Redux
Wyeth removed the diet drugs Pondimin and Redux from the market in 1997 after researchers linked them to heart and lung problems in some users. Those drugs were used with the generic phentermine in the fen-phen combination.
Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said he couldn’t comment on what specific drugs were involved in the case.
Doctors wrote more than 6 million prescriptions for the diet- pill combination, which included Wyeth’s Pondimin or Redux drugs and the generic drug phentermine, before the products were pulled off the market in 1997. The company withdrew the drugs from pharmacies after researchers linked them to heart problems and a fatal lung disease in some users.
The Philadelphia cases involve former fen-phen users who declined to participate in the company’s $3.75 billion class- action settlement and chose to go to trial separately.
The verdict is the seventh-largest jury award nationally so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The largest verdict in a fen-phen case was awarded last year in Texas, more than $1 billion to the family of a 41-year-old woman who died after being diagnosed with a fatal lung disease linked to the diet drugs.
100 Minutes
The next largest fen-phen verdict in Philadelphia Common Pleas cases since July 2004 was a $5.5 million award to two Utah woman March 30. Jurors in that case ruled April 8 that the company wasn’t liable for paying that award.
In court papers filed today in connection with Paul’s and Karician’s cases, Wyeth’s lawyers argued that the verdict should be thrown out because the women’s lawyers improperly “inflamed” the jury.
The company said that jurors deliberated for less than 100 minutes before returning the $200 million award.
Shares of Wyeth, which have risen 22 percent over the last 12 months, rose 9 cents to $43.82 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading today. Wyeth released after the close of regular U.S. trading.
The cases are Paul v. Wyeth, No. 003723 and Karician v. Wyeth, 001224, in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas

Hare Krishna Child Abuse Lawsuits

A lawsuit pending in the 192nd Dallas State District Court has prompted payment for child abuse victims worldwide. The case, filed in 2001 against the Hare Krishna religious organization, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, caused several Krishna Temples to file for Bankruptcy in Southern California and West Virginia.
As a result, the original 95 Dallas plaintiffs grew to 535 abuse victims asserting claims in the Bankruptcy Court. The original defendants were joined by other Krishna organizations to fund a partial settlement of $9.5 Million for the victims. The remainder of the case, which is against several insurance carriers, is expected to provide additional funding for the abuse claimants. The Court approved the reorganization settlement today.
The confirmation of this settlement by the Bankruptcy Court, combined with the explicit apology, issued today to the victims, where Krishna acknowledged wrongdoing, helps provide validation to these innocent young people. Many of them were terribly abused, sexually, physically, and emotionally, for years in various Krishna Boarding Schools. One of the worst abusing schools was operated in Dallas, TX.
While the money received by these victims will be of help in securing needed therapy, and for many, vocational training, more important is the self-validation of their own worth brought about by these payments and the unequivocal acknowledgement of wrongdoing and apology by this religious organization.

Danville Woman Claims Nun Abuse

ROCHESTER, Minn. – A Danville woman who claims she was sexually abused by a nun has sued a Sisters of St. Francis order, alleging the order was negligent and failed to investigate or address the allegations.
Christine Bertrand filed her lawsuit Tuesday in Olmsted County District Court. It seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
“The whole topic of nun abuse is just starting to come forward,” Bertrand said.
Leaders at the Sisters of St. Francis said there is no evidence of wrongdoing and they will defend against all claims.
Bertrand, 50, claims when she was a student at St. Juliana’s School in Chicago she was sexually abused by Sister Benen Kent, a music teacher and member of the Third Order Regular, Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes, also known as the Rochester Franciscans.
Bertrand, who owns a marketing business in Danville, claims the incidents occurred between 1962 and 1967.
She also claims she was sexually abused by Kent during a visit to Assisi Heights motherhouse in Rochester in 1967.
Bertrand said she had forgotten about the abuse until about three years ago.
Kent died in 2003 at age 85.
Also Tuesday, Bertrand demanded the resignation of Sister Dolore Rockers, president of the Franciscan sisters.
Leaders of the order said the allegations of misconduct were brought to their attention in 2002 and that policy in reviewing and responding to the allegations was followed. The leaders said intermediary attempts to resolve the issues failed.
The statement does not address Bertrand’s demand that Rockers resign.