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Dix Hills Doctor Investigation Results in Another 8500 Warning Letters to Patients of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein

Dec 12, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
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The Dix Hills doctor medical malpractice case is getting bigger, as the New York State Department of Health announced that it would be sending letters to another 8500 patients of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, urging them to get tested for blood borne diseases including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.   By the time these letters go out, the New York State Department of Health will have warned more than 10,000 people – all of Finkelstein’s patients between 2000 and 2005 – that they could have been endangered by the poor infection control practices employed by the Dix Hills doctor.

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 medical malpractice occurring at the Dix Hills doctor’s practice first came to the attention of the Nassau County Health Department in December 2004, when it was discovered that two people with Hepatitis C had been treated by Finkelstein, and had received spinal injections at his Long Island practice.  In January 2005, state and local health officials investigating the Dix Hills doctor visited Finkelstein to watch him work.   The investigators saw Finkelstein reuse syringes on a patient, resulting in a backflow of blood from the previous patient.  Apparently, the Dix Hills doctor routinely reused syringes in this way.

The Nassau County Health Department initially informed 98 of Finkelstein’s patients who had received spinal injection on nine dates in 2004 that they could be at risk.  In July 2006, state health department officials decided to seek out all patients who had received injections from Finkelstein between Jan. 1, 2000, and Jan. 15, 2005. It took more than a year for the Nassau County Health Department to go through Finkelstein’s records and determine which patients might have been exposed to blood borne pathogens.  The health department sent out 628 letters in November, informing people who had been treated by Finkelstein that they are at risk for HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B. But soon after word of the Dix Hills doctors medical malpractice broke, the health department began getting phone calls from former Finkelstein patients who were worried they had been exposed as well.  The tidal wave of phone calls convinced health officials to send out more warning letters.

It is not entirely clear why the health department initially decided to warn only 628 of Finkelstein’s patients.  The state and county health departments are using Finkelstein’s billing records – which included information on more than 4,000 people -to locate as many patients as possible.  Unfortunately, the doctor’s billing system was changed in 2004, so an unknown number of patients are not included in those records.  According to the newspaper Newsday, health officials have so far refused to comment when asked if Finkelstein impeded their investigation in any way.

Both the New York State and Nassau County health departments have faced criticism for the way the Dix Hills doctor investigation has been handled.  Most of the criticism centers on the fact that health officials waited nearly three years before informing the public that Finkelstein’s patients were at risk for blood borne diseases because of his poor infection control practices.

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