I-Team: Thousands of NY Hospital Mistakes Kept Secret

Hospitals have confidentially reported more than 40,000 “adverse events” since 2007, including wrong-site or wrong-patient surgeries, unexpected deaths, and delays or omissions of treatment

New York hospitals are burying thousands of medical mistakes and other problems in a database that remains hidden from the public, the I-Team has learned.

According to information furnished by the New York State Health Department, hospitals have confidentially reported more than 40,000 “adverse events” since 2007, including wrong-site or wrong-patient surgeries, unexpected deaths, and delays or omissions of treatment.

A search of hospital profiles on the New York Health Department website reveals only a fraction of those reports.

State law allows hospitals to report “adverse events” through a program called NYPORTS -- the New York Patient Occurrence Reporting and Tracking System -- and any such reports, including corrective actions imposed, are kept strictly secret from the public.

One of the medical mistakes reported through NYPORTS -- one which never showed up in public records -- was a 2007 botched C-section procedure at New York Downtown Hospital in Lower Manhattan.

According to video depositions entered into evidence in an unrelated employment lawsuit, doctors cut into a woman for a C-section even though she wasn’t pregnant.

“Doctor, are you aware of a case at New York Downtown Hospital in which a C-Section was performed on a patient who was not pregnant?” a lawyer asked during a videotaped sworn deposition.

“Yes,” replied Dr. Anca Rosca, who said in the deposition that she performed a sonogram on the patient but later turned over care of the woman to another physician who initiated the C-Section.

Despite the sworn testimony and despite the requirement that such surgical errors be reported to the Health Department within 24 hours, the C-Section procedure is not mentioned in any publicly available records kept by the state.

A spokesman for the state Health Department told the I-Team that the mistaken C-section procedure was properly reported via NYPORTS, but also explained that the information, and any further details, are confidential.

"New York Downtown Hospital is in full compliance with all state reporting requirements. The state Health Department has reviewed and accepted all of our reports and internal reviews," Fred Winters, a spokesman for New York Downtown Hospital, said in a statement.

Aside from the errant C-section, the I-Team has learned New York Downtown Hospital confidentially reported 14 other problems classified as “unexpected deaths” through NYPORTS since 2007.  The Health Department website makes no mention of the deaths even though they are defined as deaths “in circumstances other than those related to the natural course of illness, disease or proper treatment (e.g., delay in treatment, diagnosis or an omission of care).”

The opaque nature of NYPORTS has drawn criticism from advocates for patient safety.

“I think people deserve, at least, evidence that the state takes reports of harm seriously and proactively is doing something to make things better,” said Arthur Levin, who serves as director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a non-profit pushing for more transparency in health care, specifically involving patient safety.

“We have no way of assuring that hospitals are actually reporting what they should be reporting,” said Levin.

“If it’s all opaque, there’s no reason to do better. If it’s all transparent, there’s a darn good reason to do better.”

Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the state Health Department, released a statement insisting the hands of regulators are tied, because the public health law forbids them from releasing any details about NYPORTS reports.

The statement reads: “Under state law, hospitals are required to report adverse events to the state Health Department, which uses this information to identify and correct deficiencies that may affect patient safety.  Due to confidentiality statutes in the law, this information is not disclosed publicly. The department is currently developing strategies to provide additional information to help inform and serve the interests of the health-care consumer in the state, while also ensuring continued compliance with confidentiality requirements.”

Although the law does restrict the release of information about specific medical mistakes reported through NYPORTS, the state Health Department is asked to publish statistical information each year detailing the total numbers of hospital problems and errors.
The most recent NYPORTS annual report was published in 2007. 

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