A New York state lawmaker wants changes in medical oversight after learning of a botched C-section procedure uncovered by the News 4 I-team.
"Certainly we need to get more facts about what happened here,” said State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who serves on the senate health committee.
On Monday, News 4 broke a story that included the depositions of two doctors with New York Downtown Hospital testifying, under oath, that a patient was cut into for a C-section even though the patient was not pregnant.
“Doctor, are you aware of a case during the time in which you were an attending at New York Downtown in which a C-section was performed on a patient who was not pregnant?” asked a plaintiff’s lawyer.
“Yes,” replied Dr. Anca Rosca, who testified that she performed a sonogram on the patient, but said she played no role in the decision to operate.
The depositions are part of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in 2008 by a former resident physician at New York Downtown Hospital.
Despite the sworn testimony of two doctors who are currently working at the hospital, a spokesman for New York Downtown Hospital said in a statement: “No C-section has ever been performed in our hospital on a woman who was not pregnant.”
Citing confidentiality laws, the spokesman would not elaborate or answer whether the hospital reported the procedure to the health department. He would also not say whether the patient was informed or whether there was an investigation or action plan to prevent further errors.
"Those are the right questions to be asking and the fact that we can't get answers speaks to how badly we need to change the rules and regulations that apply in these situations,” said Gianaris. “The Department of Health should be charged with protecting people by making sure hospitals are doing what they need to do."
After reviewing the videotaped depositions obtained by News 4, Gianaris said the state health department should further investigate the 2007 botched C-section procedure.
State regulations require hospitals to report incorrect surgical procedures that involve anesthesia prior to a surgical incision.
Gianaris suggested, though, there is little to compel doctors and hospitals to follow those reporting regulations.
“There is far too much discretion given to those who have made the mistakes as to whether it is reportable or not. Obviously the incentive if somebody screws up is not to tell anybody about it,” Gianaris said.
Citing medical privacy laws, health department spokesman Peter Constantakes would not comment specifically on whether regulators were informed of the improper surgery.
“We are aware of situations at the hospital around that time frame,” Constantakes said.
There is no evidence either Rosca or a second physician named in the depositions, Dr. Shiu Hung So, was disciplined by the health department for a mistaken surgery.
Dr. Ira Jaffe, an OB/GYN who had no involvement in this case, said after viewing the depositions that the story was "extraordinary."
Jaffe explained that initiating a C-section on a patient who is not pregnant should be nearly impossible, given the sensitivity of modern sonogram equipment.
"What I find, from a physician's point of view and as somebody who's done sonography for many years, is that, how somebody could look and say ‘I don't see a fetal heartbeat’ and not notice that they don't see a fetus at the same time,” said Jaffe. “It's not that subtle."
“So, what we have to assume is either they had very poor equipment so they had to use their imagination or they had a very inexperienced operator,” said Jaffe.
He explained that there is a psychological condition where a woman can believe so strongly that she is pregnant, that she begins to exhibit signs of an actual pregnancy even though there is no baby.
Jaffe explained that such patients can be very convincing, but that doctors should be trained to simply not take patients at their word before beginning any operation.
The state Department of Health regularly posts information about deficiencies and citations in maternity wards. If you’d like to check up on any hospital in New York state, you can click here.