There are more than 5,600 surgery centers in the United States. Unlike hospitals in the United States, there is limited information available to the public regarding surgical outcome data (i.e., safety data) from surgery centers. Hence, it may be more difficult for patients to do their due diligence before opting to have their surgery performed at a surgery center instead of in a hospital.
On August 9, 2018, the Kaiser Health News and USA Today Network published a report entitled Simple Surgeries. Tragic Results. Lax Oversight Leaves Surgery Center Regulators And Patients In The Dark regarding the results of an investigation. The report warned that “surgery centers operate under such an uneven mix of rules across U.S. states that fatalities or serious injuries can result in no warning to government officials, much less to potential patients. The gaps in oversight enable centers hit with federal regulators’ toughest sanctions to keep operating, according to interviews, a review of hundreds of pages of court filings and government records obtained under open records laws. No rule stops a doctor exiled by a hospital for misconduct from opening a surgery center down the street.”
In California, eight surgery centers that Medicare decertified over health violations (including one surgery center that failed to have a life-saving drug in its crash cart and another surgery center where the facility’s managers required an unqualified receptionist to disinfect scopes after invasive procedures) nonetheless continued to operate on patients because they were accredited by private accreditation agencies that the surgery centers paid to perform inspections.
In at least 17 states, health facility officials have no way to know that a patient died because surgery centers have no duty to report such deaths.
In Utah, any licensed surgeon can operate in a one-operating-room surgery center without state approval.
An Example: A Maryland Surgery Center
The report described a surgery center in Maryland owned by a Maryland gynecological surgeon who had lost his hospital privileges in 2001 after a medical staff committee at the hospital reviewed his competence or conduct. The surgeon reportedly had been named in fourteen medical malpractice lawsuits since 1991 alleging substandard obstetrics and gynecological care, including claims that he caused women to become infertile, incontent, or to suffer perforated bowels. The surgeon reportedly confirmed that settlements were paid in at least four of the Maryland medical malpractice cases.
The co-owner of the Maryland surgery center is the surgeon’s wife, who is a gynecologist. The Maryland surgery center is accredited and approved by Medicare.
The surgeon’s medical malpractice insurance company filed a lawsuit against the surgeon alleging that his medical malpractice insurance policy in early 2015 did not cover him to perform cancer surgery. Despite the insurance coverage exclusion, the surgeon performed a hysterectomy on a patient with uterine cancer at his surgery center in February 2015. One month later, the surgeon placed a catheter in the same patient for administration of chemotherapy drugs. That same day, the patient died and an autopsy reportedly determined the death was due to a complication of attempted treatment for the patient’s cancer.
The patient’s family subsequently filed a Maryland medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against the surgeon, alleging that the surgeon had punctured a vein while placing the catheter in the woman. The surgeon’s medical malpractice insurer sued the surgeon to recover the medical malpractice settlement payment. The insurer and the surgeon reportedly settled that lawsuit.
If you or a loved one were injured as a result of a procedure performed in an outpatient surgery center in Maryland or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a medical malpractice attorney in Maryland or in your U.S. state who may investigate your surgery center malpractice claim for you and file a malpractice claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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