Obstetricians rebuked over birth-injury cases

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RICHMOND (AP) — State medical board officials have administratively punished two Northern Virginia obstetricians who had immunity from being sued over catastrophic, birth-injury cases, the first time the state has taken such action in two decades.

Dr. Evelyn Anna Ruelaz of Fairfax County and Dr. Regina Burton of Woodbridge, received formal reprimands for their handling of births that resulted in devastating, lifelong injuries to infants during delivery.

The reprimands, issued in hearings last week, carry no monetary penalty and do not affect a doctor’s ability to practice.

They do, however, become part of a doctor’s permanent record and appear on a physician’s public profile at a Web site that lists background information on physicians licensed in Virginia.

In 2006, the board issued 209 sanctions among 34,813 holders of a state medical license. None had ever been made in birth-act generated cases before last week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday.

Sobbing, Lee Ann Hershberger told a medical board panel about her emergency surgical delivery in June 2003. Records show that Mrs. Hershberger labored alone at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax County for hours as her baby’s heart rate slowed and oxygen was shut off to him in utero from multiple medical complications. Son Joseph has cerebral palsy and needs 24-hour care.

The board found that in a 2002 case, Dr. Burton failed to adequately assess a pregnant patient with a history of hemorrhaging during childbirth, resulting in injury.

Both doctors said they did not pay adequate attention to the deteriorating conditions of the patients and babies.

The doctors were protected from being sued by Virginia’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Act.

Legislators created the program in 1987 to help obstetricians facing high malpractice insurance costs and to get medical care to injured children without going to trial. Only Florida has a similar law.

The state’s Board of Medicine reviews cases and decides whether the infants are entitled to medical care financed by a fund to which doctors, hospitals and insurers contribute.

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