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Dix Hills Doctor Harvey Finkelstein's Hospital Patients Not on New York Health Department's Notification List

Dec 18, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Hospital patients treated by Dix Hills doctor Harvey Finkelstein will not be getting letters from the New York State Department of Health warning of possible exposure to blood borne pathogens. That leaves patients like Elizabeth Sinclair in a quandary. Five years after undergoing an epidural spinal tap performed by Finkelstein, Sinclair is now deciding whether to get tested for blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. The state Department of Health has urged thousands of Finkelstein’s patients to be tested, adding 8,500 people to the list of patients notified they are at risk due to Finkelstein’s improper procedures; nearly 11,000 patients have been identified. Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist whose patient base reaches into the thousands, is no longer practicing medicine at three of the hospitals and clinics where he had privileges. As a result of his medical malpractice practice, one patient contracted hepatitis C; six other patients tested positive for hepatitis B and six more for hepatitis C.

Sinclair was treated by Finkelstein at New Island Hospital in Bethpage, not in Finkelstein’s private offices where the Department of Health says he contaminated multi-dose vials by reusing syringes. Health officials say she has nothing to worry about. While she hasn’t decided about getting tested, Sinclair and thousands of others treated at New Island Hospital, Plainview Hospital, and Long Island Surgicenter in Melville will not be among the thousands receiving letters urging testing. Claudia Hutton, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said investigators visited those facilities during a nearly three-year investigation and found infection control practices were sound, syringe disposal policies were clear, nurses and staff served as checks on Finkelstein, and the facilities generally used single-dose vials of anesthetics.

Pat Stickle, spokeswoman for New Island Hospital, said they see no reason to notify their patients. "The Department of Health gave us a clean bill of health in regards to that man.” Plainview Hospital spokesman, Terry Lynam, said multi-dose vials are used, but their strict syringe usage guidelines prevent infections. Patient Advocates feel Finkelstein's hospital work deserves more scrutiny. Ilene Corina, president of PULSE of New York, said Finkelstein would have been instructed on proper procedure by hospital staff. "Obviously, no one corrected him," Corina said. "There is reason to be suspicious if he was doing it in his private office." Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers in Manhattan, said he was satisfied by the state's explanation saying, "It makes some sense that when somebody is practicing in a facility that has some systems in place that he or she might practice differently than when no one is around and that seems to be the case.”

Finkelstein has far more malpractice settlements than any other pain-management specialist on Long Island and, in 1995, was sued, on average, once or twice yearly. Fifteen of the suits concerned epidural injections; at least 10 led to settlements. On his resume—posted on his now offline Web site—Finkelstein was described as a 1985 fellow in pediatric and cardiac anesthesia and a 1986 fellow in pain management via Stony Brook Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman said they were not accredited to offer fellowships in pain management until 1994, in pediatric anesthesia until recently, and are not accredited in cardiac anesthesia.

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