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Martin & Me
A TV station's investigation of a hospice owned by California Pacific Medical Center reveals what's really wrong with an institution that wants to build a new hospital at Geary & Van Ness
KPIX-TV, CBS 5, did a rather shocking piece about a hospice nurse who admitted under oath that she administered drugs to a patient against a physician’s orders. The patient died and a pathologist hired by her daughter determined that the elderly woman had enough of the drug Atropine in her system to kill seven horses. The licensed vocational nurse, Betsi Bilyck, was still working at Coming Home Hospice as of June 8. A check of the California Board of Vocational Nursing’s license database indicates no disciplinary action. Bilyck still had a valid nursing license as of this writing.
Coming Home Hospice is owned by California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health affiliate. CPMC and Sutter are controlled by a very anti-union board of directors and management. In fact, two members of the Sutter Health board of directors contributed to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
CPMC issued a statement calling its employee’s actions “appropriate.” So a major medical center – the one that wants the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to sign off on its fancy, new hospital at Geary and Van Ness – says it’s appropriate for a nurse to give a patient enough Atropine to kill seven horses even without a doctor’s order. Consider that the next time you need health care in San Francisco.
Covering corporate ass is of paramount importance at CPMC and Sutter Health. An incident that occurred in April illustrates how a culture of deceit permeates these organizations from top to bottom.
My wife, Sherri, was a registered nurse at CPMC until becoming disabled from multiple sclerosis in 2007. Our experiences at the medical center have been overwhelmingly positive. We remain in California chiefly because of her neurologist, Dr. Amy Akers. We also remain friends with many of Sherri's former co-workers. That said, an incident in April certainly called into question the level of trust one should have in CPMC's management.
Sherri needed a new primary care physician because hers left for Kaiser. We went to see Dr. May Yau, who is a partner in Pacific Internal Medicine Associates. Another practice partner is none other than Dr. Martin Brotman, now-former CEO of CPMC and current president of the West Bay Region of Sutter Health facilities. Dr. Yau refused to treat Sherri because Sherri refused to sign a medical malpractice arbitration agreement. Dr. Yau stated that it was the policy of her practice group to require patients to sign such a form.
In response to complaints I made about the incident via e-mail and CPMC's Beyond Medicine blog, I received an e-mail from CPMC Media Relations Manager Kevin McCormack.
"I would also like to point out that while Dr. Brotman may share an office with Dr. Yau he is in no other way affiliated with her," McCormack wrote. "They have entirely separate practices."
Sherri requested and received a refund of the co-pay to Dr. Yau. Attached to this story is a copy of the check that clearly lists Dr. Brotman and Dr. Yau as members of the same practice group.
It is said that there are lies, damned lies, and goddamned lies. I'll leave it to you to discern into which category McCormack's lie should fall.
I sent the Sutter Health board of directors a letter in April in which I discussed McCormack's assertion that Dr. Brotman's practice is entirely separate from Dr. Yau's. I received a nice reply from one of the members stating that Sutter Health couldn't dictate how its physicians operate their practices. Yeah, well, Sutter sure as hell can decide who its regional presidents are.
What happened at the hospice is unacceptable and entirely inappropriate. The fact that CPMC would publicly assert otherwise – even in a pathetic attempt to mitigate its culpability in a wrongful death lawsuit – should frighten the living hell out of current and future patients.
California Pacific Medical Center needs an enema. Brotman and McCormack should both be summarily fired. If Sutter CEO Pat Fry doesn’t have the balls to do this, then he needs to go, too.
Meanwhile, I have warned the San Francisco Board of Supervisors not only to get everything in writing from CPMC regarding the new hospital, but to make the institution face real consequences if it fails to make good on any promises its managers make. A new hospital comes with many hidden infrastructure and transportation costs. For example, have you ever ridden the Muni 38 or 38L? If so, you can imagine what it’ll be like with yet another hospital on the route.
CPMC, long a miser when it comes to charity care, needs to give something back if San Francisco allows it to open a profit center along one of its busiest thoroughfares. How ‘bout starting with a little honesty?