- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A hospital in upstate New York was fined and forced to undergo an independent quality assurance analysis after a media outlet’s Freedom of Information Act request revealed egregious acts of medical malpractice on the part of staff and doctors.

One example of the findings: A drug overdose victim who was deemed dead by Syracuse St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center doctors and prepped for organ removal shocked the operating room when she opened her eyes, the Telegraph reported.

Yet medical professionals shouldn’t have been so surprised, the investigation found. They had plenty of tips that the woman — a 41-year-old drug addict who later committed suicide — was not dead.

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A spokeswoman for the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project, a group that aims for more accountability by medical professionals, says the nurse who was preparing the woman for organ removal actually noticed her toes curled during a required reflex test. And the woman’s nostrils appeared to be moving in an in-and-out breathing motion in the minutes before her planned post-mortem surgery.

“Dead people don’t curl their toes,” said Dr. Charles Wetli, a forensic pathologist from New Jersey, in the Telegraph. “And they don’t fight against the respirator and want to breathe on their own.”

But just 20 minutes after medical staff recorded the woman’s nostril motions, a nurse injected her with a sedative and sent her on the way to the operating room.

The hospital was forced to submit a plan of corrective action to New York’s Health Department in August 2011. And the hospital was fined and ordered to hire outside consultants to help oversee its work — and to teach how to diagnose death.

The hospital said in a statement reported by the Telegraph: “We’ve learned from this experience and have modified our policies to include the type of unusual circumstances presented in this case.”

The state began its investigation of the hospital on the heels of a Freedom of Information Act from The Syracuse Post-Standard.

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