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Dix Hills Doctor Investigation Botched, New York State Health Commissioner Says

Dec 7, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Dix Hills Doctor Investigation

Mishandled Investigation.

The investigation into Dix Hills doctor Harvey Finkelstein was mishandled, State Health Commissioner Richard Daines conceded Thursday prompting State Senator Kemp Hannon to announce that he would propose legislation to speed patient notification after improper practices and disclose charges against doctors. Hannon, chairman of the State Senate's health committee, held a public hearing at Farmingdale State College Thursday to address questions surrounding the transmission of hepatitis C and B in Dr. Harvey Finkelstein's office in 2004 after he re-used syringes in multi-dose drug vials.  The health department came under fire because it took nearly three years to notify hundreds of patients of the transmission.  The Office of Professional Medical Conduct, part of the health department, has been criticized for not disciplining Finkelstein and not taking into account his 10 malpractice settlements in nine years.  Of New York State's 70,000 doctors, only 177 have as many settlements, according to Public Citizen, a national nonprofit organization that monitors health issues.

Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist since 1981 whose patient base reaches into the thousands, continues to practice at the Pain Care Center of Long Island and has admitting privileges at the New Island Hospital in Bethpage, the North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, and the Long Island SurgiCenter in Melville.  As of yesterday, six of Finkelstein's patients tested positive for hepatitis B and six for hepatitis C, according to the Nassau County Health Department.

Committee To Review Ongoing Investigations.

Daines established a committee to review ongoing investigations to ensure they are handled promptly, adding that adverse events would be reported to the department's Patient Safety Center.  Daine's wants that center to work with the professional conduct office to proactively flag doctors who prompt a high number of complaints or errors.  Hannon said he plans to write a bill to publicize charges brought against doctors by the professional conduct office.  NY is one of a few states in which findings against doctors are made public only after fault is determined, which can take years.

Daines described the department's scientific investigation as world class, but said it should have moved faster, allowing for swifter patient notification.  The office has been criticized for not reviewing doctors like Finkelstein, who must purchase insurance from a state pool because they are involved in an unusually high number of malpractice cases.

Governor Eliot Spitzer called for a hepatitis C advisory council to help develop an education, detection, and treatment program.  Hepatitis C is a viral hepatitis transmitted by infected blood,  causing chronic liver problems; it is the most common chronic blood-borne viral infection in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with over four million Americans infected and the majority suffering chronically. 

Daines disagreed with Senators Fuschillo and Marcellino's suggestion that patients be notified as soon as the state knows of an infection problem. Daines said the health department was concerned about wrongly notifying patients who aren't at risk, but the senators asked why the public couldn't be informed of a transmission the way parents are notified of an illness outbreak at school.

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