City Hospitals Fake Records, Cover Mistakes: Report

Call them hospitals of errors. City-run hospitals faked records and covered up dozens of medical mistakes that cost patients their lives, according to a scathing new report.

Millions of New Yorkers who can't afford private health care have no choice but to seek help at one of the city's 11 Health & Hospitals Corp. hospitals – and a months-long Daily News investigation found medical conspiracies and cover-ups at all of them. 

The schemes suppressed a trail of anguish among patients and family members who never found out the truth about how people died or were hurt for no reason.

Records indicate the state cited city-run hospitals nearly 70 times from 2004 through Sept. 2008 for violating regulations that demand immediate reporting of "adverse events," according to the Daily News

Each hospital – Kings County, Lincoln, Harlem, Coney Island, Bellevue, Queens, Woodhull, Jacobi, Elmhurst, Metropolitan and North Central Bronx – was cited at least once.

Lack of reporting makes it difficult to identify what goes wrong where, and thus the same – often deadly – problems and lapses in ethics happen again and again.

The News uncovered a host of horrifying incidents – patients who died after being ignored in emergency rooms for 24 hours, limbs that needed to be amputated because other conditions went untreated, records that were falsified after medical errors caused patients' deaths and suicides labeled "unexpected deaths" to avoid scrutiny of staff. 

The findings of the News' investigation are unveiled a year after workers at Kings County Hospital attempted to cover up the death of Esmin Green – a 49-year-old psychiatric patient who died on an emergency room floor. A shocking videotape showed Green sprawled on the floor for an hour, neglected and dying, as staff passed by every so often. Not a single doctor checked on her in the 10 hours before she died of a blood clot – yet hospital staff wrote in records that she was fine.

The cover-up at Kings County was apparently part of a much larger, disturbing pattern documented in thousands of pages of internal hospital memos obtained by the News.

A Culture of Cover-Ups

Mishaps occur fairly often in medical centers – and the city's 11 Health & Hospitals Corp., the busiest municipal system in the U.S., is no exception to the rule. Hospitals get cited for those errors, which range from "unexpected removal of organ" to deadly misdiagnoses, according to the News.

HHC hospitals were issued 517 such citations over a four-year period.

Despite the seemingly large number of violations, HHC officials say under-reporting is not a big problem, considering the volume of patients they treat on a regular basis.

"All hospitals in New York City, not just HHC, have been challenged by the issue of under-reporting. It's important to examine the numbers in context," HHC officials wrote in response to the News' written questions. "During this same time period, 2005 to 2008, HHC had more than 1 million patient discharges. That means we were cited in less than a fraction of 1% of the cases during that time."   

Penalties for under-reporting aren't very high. The city brought a total of only 12 enforcement actions against the network of hospitals during a period where there were hundreds of citations and hundreds of complaints.

A Health Department spokesman told the News only the most severe infractions results in enforcement actions, and that "changes in policy and procedure in many cases have proven effective to help prevent errors from ever reaching the patient level."

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