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Patient Of AWOL Doc Files State Complaints

Aug 16, 2002 | The Boston Herald

The patient who was abandoned by a surgeon during an operation at Mount Auburn Hospital filed complaints with state regulatory agencies yesterday and called for new laws to prevent others from being kept in the dark.

Charles Algeri, 45, of Waltham, said the hospital waited a month to tell him of Dr. David C. Arndt's 35-minute trip to the bank during his July 10 spinal fusion operation even though the doctor had been suspended by the hospital July 11.

``I heard it in a phone call,'' said the former taxi driver. ``It was the day before it was going to hit the papers. I was devastated. I felt alone, abandoned, hate and anger. How could someone dedicated to helping people do this?''

Algeri's lawyer, Marc Breakstone, said the action ``exposes a curtain of secrecy, a bunker mentality by the hospital.''

Hospital President Jeanette Clough, however, said the decision to keep the matter from the patient was made for his own good.

``We believed it was in the patient's best interests not to do anything that would interrupt his care and recovery,'' she said.

She also said patients are generally informed of incidents only if there is harm done as a result. She said Algeri was ``progressing appropriately.''

But Breakstone said Algeri has pain and numbness in his right leg that he didn't have before the operation and must use a cane.

Algeri yesterday filed complaints with the Department of Public Health, which regulates hospitals, and the Board of Registration in Medicine, which regulates doctors. The board has suspended Ardnt's license.

``We plan to conduct a thorough investigation,'' said Roseanne Pawelec, DPH spokeswoman.

Algeri and his lawyer also said they will ask the Legislature to pass laws mandating hospitals tell patients of disciplinary actions taken against their doctors.

The petition to the Legislature also will ask hospitals be mandated to assign new doctors to patients whose doctors have been suspended. Algeri said he never got a new doctor and didn't know Arndt was no longer his doctor for the four days before his discharge.

Clough, however, said Algeri was given another orthopedic surgeon.

State Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), who attended Algeri's press conference, said he will push to have such laws passed.

Breakstone also said Algeri's medical records at Mount Auburn indicate he suffered serious post-operative complications that required oversight by an attending physician.

However, he said the records indicate Algeri's care was overseen by a physician's assistant and a nurse after Arndt was suspended.

Breakstone said in addition to suffering post-operative pain and numbness in his right leg, Algeri lost a significant amount of blood and his red blood cell count was dangerously low.

Breakstone said Algeri needed daily transfusions, and another surgeon was called in briefly to determine if an operation would be needed to see if there was internal bleeding.

``Was this patient progressing normally? Was he unharmed?'' Breakstone said. ``The records indicate not.''

Clough apologized for Arndt's actions, saying the hospital ``deeply regrets'' the events. A nurse, Clough said she was ``shocked'' by Arndt's behavior. She would not discuss specifics of Algeri's medical condition.

As far as Arndt's actions were concerned, Breakstone said: ``This goes beyond gross negligence. This case is off the charts.''

Algeri said he hasn't seen Arndt since the doctor's last two visits in the hospital, but would like to ask him, ``Why? Why did you do this?''

Breakstone said that while Arndt told the medical board he finished the operation at 8:35 p.m., hospital records indicate the operation didn't end until 9:40 p.m.

Arndt also told the board he had done a skin graft in the final two hours of the procedure, but Breakstone said no skin graft was done.

The attorney also said Arndt is not board-certified in orthopedic surgery.

But Clough said Arndt is ``board eligible,'' meaning he was in the process of becoming board-certified. She said such doctors are usually allowed surgical privileges.

However, she noted he had failed the first part of his written exam and might not have been allowed to stay on staff when his appointment was up for review.

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