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Dix Hills Doctor Investigation Plagued by Delays, Leaving Finkelstein's Patients Unaware of Threat

Dec 3, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

A Dix Hills Doctor and his shoddy medical practices brought together some of the country's top disease experts via conference call in May 2006.  Among the issues discussed by officials the state Department of Health, the Nassau County Department of Health, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was whether to inform hundreds of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein's patients that they were now at risk for some serious blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C and B and HIV/AIDS. When the call ended the CDC believed there was agreement to issue broad notification regarding the Dix Hills Doctor's medical malpractice; however, no action was taken.  Repeated meetings elicited no action and state officials say those conversations represented several opportunities when they could have-but did not-move more quickly with news of an emerging public health risk. 

Finkelstein is the doctor who exposed patients-infecting at least one with hepatitis C-to blood-borne pathogen infections because of his routine practice of reusing syringes.  The Dix Hills Doctor remains under review for inferior infection control practices and record keeping.  New York officials investigating the doctor have expanded their investigation, bringing the number of patients involved to nearly 1000, as Finkelstein's patient base reaches into the thousands.  Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist since 1981, 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.

The Nassau DA's office claims they repeatedly asked the state Health Department for information but were told there were issues that kept them from moving quickly:  incorrect prioritization, other urgent health crises, and Finkelstein's continued reluctance to turn, and delays in turning, over records.  Although the Health Department first learned of Finkelstein's practices in January 2005, letters were not sent to over 600 patients until November 10th.

There were some other factors that kept news of the Dix Hills Doctors medical malpractice from reaching the public.  The identity of the original hepatitis C case, a patient with the disease prior to visiting Finkelstein-may have been treated the same day as two other patients diagnosed with hepatitis C-is missing and has not been tested.  Officials' where also reluctant to issue broad notification based on one just transmission-discovered through genetic fingerprinting, a method being used for the first time.  The CDC questioned state investigators for months about their lab work which slowed the process.  Two key investigators accepted different jobs.  The epidemiological team got busy with other big cases.

By the time Finkelstein's lawyers turned over under 300 files, the Health Department had requested all records.  More letters, phone calls, and meetings between health officials and Finkelstein's attorney.  Officials began preparing a master list to notify 628 patients.  Public notification again was an option, but staffers thought Finkelstein provided too few records. Finkelstein and his attorney claimed they provided a complete list, but when news of the November 10th letters broke, hundreds of Finkelstein's patients contacted the Health Department claiming they'd been injected but not notified.  The department was forced to urge anyone injected by Finkelstein since 1993 to get tested for infectious diseases.  State officials say how many patients are at risk is unknown, but they must number in the thousands.

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