- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Prince George’s Hospital Center yesterday notified the nation’s largest health care accreditation organization about a sworn deposition in which the hospital’s president of medical staff said he had conducted experiments on patients to see whether a preparatory surgical solution would catch fire.

Dr. Willie C. Blair said in a sworn deposition in April that he had tried to “set people on fire” by attempting to ignite a solution on patients, according to a transcript of his testimony.

Dr. Blair outlined the experiments that he said he had conducted while testifying as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving a Frederick woman who was burned in an operating room fire at the Washington Hospital Center in 2002.

This week, Dr. Blair told The Washington Times that he never conducted the experiments but was trying to make a point to lawyers in the deposition room. The Times reported Dr. Blair’s deposition yesterday.

C. Irving Pinder Jr., executive director for the Maryland Board of Physicians, which monitors and regulates the state’s physicians, said he was aware of the situation yesterday.

Citing board policy, he said he could speak in general terms but could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

“If we felt there was a doctor out there who was trying to set people on fire, then we would definitely investigate it,” Mr. Pinder said.

“On the other hand, it’s very possible that if we were to find out that somebody had lied in a deposition, we would also investigate that. That also could be a chargeable offense.”

Dr. Blair acknowledged this week that he had said he had tried to set patients on fire but added that his comments were made “for the consumption of the lawyers.” He also said his comments were “tongue-in-cheek.”

The plaintiff in the lawsuit in which Dr. Blair testified is identified in court documents as Catherine Reuter, 75, who suffered severe burns and was placed on a ventilator after the accident, according to court records and interviews.

Bob Howell, spokesman for Prince George’s Hospital Center, said the hospital notified the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations about the situation yesterday.

“That’s just standard practice,” Mr. Howell said. “We just wanted to let them know that here is an issue that arose.”

Based in Illinois, the joint commission monitors patient safety and quality, giving accreditations every three years. Hospitals nationwide consider the commission’s rulings important because insurances companies usually pay only for services provided at accredited organizations.

Prince George’s Hospital is fully accredited, according to the commission.

Charlene Hill, a spokeswoman for the Joint Commission, said its inspectors are just beginning to investigate and could not comment on any preliminary findings.

Mr. Howell said hospital officials also are looking into the matter but do not think that Dr. Blair conducted experiments on patients.

Ronna Borenstein, a spokeswoman for Suburban Hospital, where Dr. Blair also practices, said officials there are not aware of any “unusual occurrences” involving the surgeon.

“Surgeons are never alone in the operating room,” she said. “They’re in the presence of other surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses. None of these staff members has ever reported any unusual occurrence concerning Dr. Blair in our operating rooms.”

Prince George’s County officials yesterday said they have no plans to look into whether Dr. Blair conducted experiments to set patients on fire.

“We have no jurisdiction over physicians or any oversight of the hospital,” said Pat Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Prince George’s Department of Health.

“I think the hospital said they were looking into it, so let’s see what they come up with,” said Jim Keary, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson.

Jane Delgado, a board member for the Patient Safety Institute, a national advocacy organization based in Texas, said Dr. Blair’s testimony is troubling even if he did not conduct the experiments.

“Patient safety and honesty is what good medicine is all about,” she said. “Truth is not saying one thing when you’re under oath and another thing when you’re not under oath. … And if he did do something like this, it’s illegal.”

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