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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

St. Louis Hospital Apologizes for Wrong-Side Surgery...But Not Quick Enough


A St. Louis hospital publicly apologized yesterday for a wrong-side surgery that happened on April 4, 2013.  Fifty-three old Regina Turner suffered from mini-strokes and was scheduled for a "left-sided craniotomy bypass" to prevent future strokes, but, instead she received a "right-sided craniotomy surgical procedure."  The surgical team performed the correct procedure six days later, but, according to Turner's attorney, the damage was done.  Ms. Turner allegedly requires around the clock care and can no longer speak intelligibly with no hope of recovery.

In the court filings, the PI attorney named the doctor only by his initials "A.L.," and later told the media he wasn't trying to single out the doctor, that the doctor didn't hide his actions, and probably felt horrible about the situation.

But still the lawsuit was filed...and the sensational media story followed this past Tuesday, April 30th.  "A.L" is Dr. Armond Levy, a neurosurgeon who is employed by SSM healthcare.  Read this story...very bad for Dr. Levy and the hospital.  The story is full of the typical defense-minded responses of no comment, can't say what happened, etc.  Very bad.  Imagine this is your hospital or insured. 

Tuesday's original news story about the lawsuit was followed yesterday (May 2nd) by the president of SSM Healthcare issuing a public apology....almost a month after the adverse event!  The local newspaper applauded the apology, albeit with a goofy headline.  Interestingly, this story broke at the same time the Missouri House was considering legislation to re-instate tort reform, including a $350K cap, which had been thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court a couple years ago.  The bill was spiked yesterday....and guaranteed this story didn't help the cause.

So, again, I'm happy for the public apology...but why didn't this happen on April 5th, 2013 versus May 2, 2013?  Why did we wait so long?  The error was clear.  Why did Regina's family have to file a lawsuit?  Why didn't they receive disclosure and an apology with a promise to make financial and emotional amends on April 4th or 5th?  This is why disclosure programs run by empowered people who can make decisions are so important for hospitals and insurers.  Being pro-active post-event is critical, but you can only be pro-active if you have a program with trained people.

The next time your CEO or CFO says we don't have money to develop a disclosure program.....or disclosure is not a priority this year.....or we do disclosure good enough.....or we'll think about it, etc......or offers up any other lame excuse slap this newsletter and the linked stories on his/her desk.  Ask her if she would like her hospital's reputation ruined in this manner, because it could happen.  Think about are just one phone call or e-mail away from your hospital, your practice, or your insured being publicly humiliated in this manner.

A professor in college told me it takes "10 attaboys to make up for 1 aw shit."  True, but it will probably take much more than 10 attaboys to repair the damage done to SSM, their facilities, and their physicians.  They could slap up billboards all around St. Louis and litter the airways with warm, touchy ads proclaiming their greatness, but this event will linger for a long, long time.   Didn't have to be this way, though.   Dr. Levy is an employed physician of SSM...this should have been easy!

I've told this story before...but it's worth telling again.  I heard Jim Conway of IHI speak a few years ago in Northern California to a room full of hospital executives.  During his presentation, Jim posed a series of questions to the hospital executives: How many of you have a detailed plan to deal with a natural disaster like a earthquake or tornado?  All hands went up.  What about a fire?  All hands went.  What about a plan to communicate with patients and families after an adverse event?  A few hands were raised, but most people looked around the room nervously.  Wow!  Can you remember the last time a hospital burned down or was hit with a natural disaster?  Doesn't happen very often...truly a "never event!"  But, adverse events happen almost every day in American hospitals and medical practices, but not enough hospitals have a post-event communication programs/disclosure programs, nor have enough caregivers been trained on how to empathize and stay connected post-event.   What are you waiting for?  A phone call from a doctor, a nurse...or the media?

Time to develop your disclosure program, or if you have a program, time to make it better.  Sorry Works! can help.  Simply call at 618-559-8168 or e-mail