Patient Relations Coordinator
St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
736 Cambridge Street
Brighton, MA 02135-2907
Dear Ms. Davis,
My wife received your response, dated February 12, to my January 26 letter to John Holiver. When coupled with the problems which prompted our letter, your appalling response is enough to convince us to never again entrust our family’s care to St. Elizabeth’s.
I will respond point-by-point to the claims made in your letter.
“… the physician and secretary made several attempts to contact Dr. L… and were unable to speak with her directly due to timing and her voice mailbox not accepting messages because it was full. We have alerted Dr. L…’s office to this issue.”
At our request, Dr. L… checked her records at the hospital and confirmed that her correct cell number is listed for first contact. There is no record on her cell of the hospital ever calling. Furthermore, you have her home number, office number, correct fax number, and a working email address, and there is no indication that anyone attempted to contact her using any of these.
Dr. L… also says that her office has not been notified by anyone at St. Elizabeth’s of any problem with her voice-mail system.
Dr. L… has been my wife’s and our children’s physician for almost a decade, during which we have called her many times. While we have occasionally encountered a full voice-mail box on weekends, we have never been unable to reach her on her emergency extension, and we have never during office hours been unable to reach the front desk or leave a message which was returned promptly.
Even if it were true that one of Dr. L…’s voice-mail boxes was full and you had an incorrect fax number as you assert later in your letter, you had three other working methods for contacting her, so there is simply no excuse for your failure to contact her in a timely fashion about my wife’s treatment.
“You visited Dr. L… on Tuesday, January 19, 2010.”
That is simply incorrect. As I told you in my last letter, my wife did not see Dr. L… until January 26, because Dr. L… told her there was no point in her coming into the office until Dr. L… had the test results. Of course, if we had known that would take nine days, my wife would certainly have gone in earlier, because Dr. L… could have repeated the same tests and gotten the results back days before the results from your ER were made available to her!
Dr. L… has spoken to the ER doctor who treated my wife. He said he had no reason to believe my wife saw Dr. L… on January 19, nor is such an appointment listed in my wife’s records. Neither we nor Dr. L… has any idea why you think my wife saw Dr. L… on January 19. This obvious, verifiable, factual error is indicative of the shoddy quality of your entire handling of this incident.
“St. Elizabeth’s physicians made several attempts to contact Dr. L…’s office with the results. Unfortunately, the fax number we had for Dr. L… was incorrect – something we have since corrected; and Dr. L…’s voice mailbox would not allow us to leave a message, or verify the fax number.”
As noted above, Dr. L… is unaware of any problem with her voice-mail system that would have prevented the hospital staff from reaching her or her staff. Also as noted above, even if it were true that you had the wrong fax number and were unable to reach her office by phone, there were three other ways you could have reached her that no one from St. Elizabeth’s ever attempted.
“The lab results were available at the lab at St. Elizabeth’s on Monday, January 18, 2010.”
Dr. L… reiterated to my wife that it was nine days before her staff was able to obtain my wife’s test results, and that at no point did anyone from St. Elizabeth’s initiate contact with Dr. L…’s office or return any of her staff’s calls. Every single contact with the hospital was initiated by Dr. L…’s staff. Dr. L… overheard one of the calls placed by her office to the hospital, and her staff’s utter frustration over the issue was verbalized to her repeatedly over many days.
Your letter ignores the repeated attempts by Dr. L…’s office to obtain my wife’s results and offers no explanation for why you were unable to provide them when asked. Do you mean to imply that Dr. L… and her staff are lying about having tried repeatedly to obtain the results? Or do you consider it so entirely unremarkable as to be unworthy of comment for a patient’s primary care physician to be unable to obtain test results despite repeated attempts over many days? Or perhaps you would like to reconsider your claim that my wife’s results were available in your lab from January 18?
As I mentioned above, Dr. L… has spoken to the ER doctor who treated my wife. He informed her that he wrongly assumed that she was still on active duty at St. Elizabeth’s and would therefore be notified automatically of my wife’s discharge from the ER. According to him, he didn’t even try calling her until several days later when he found out that he was wrong about her status at the hospital. Furthermore, he said he knew nothing about claims to the contrary made in your letter. To be blunt, if you’re going to perpetuate a lie to cover up your hospital’s misconduct, you ought to do a better job of making sure the involved parties on your staff know about the lie so they can play their parts properly.
Speaking of transparent lies… I called you on Friday, February 12 to ask why my we had received no response to my letter. You called me back on Monday, February 15 and claimed that a letter to my wife “went out last Friday.” This is odd, because although the letter to my wife was indeed dated February 12, the postmark on its envelope was dated February 17, and we didn’t receive it until February 19. Perhaps the five-day delay was needed for your legal department to review your response to confirm that you hadn’t done anything foolish like actually admitting to having done anything wrong?
“It has been determined that the care rendered based on your hospital presentation was appropriate…”
In fact it was not, and we are not the only ones to think so. Dr. L… has informed us that as a result of this incident and how you responded to my complaint about it, she will now strongly recommend to her patients against using your emergency room. This is especially damning given that Dr. L… has admitting privileges at your hospital and teaches there.
Furthermore, after hearing my story, a physician friend who did part of her residency at your hospital remarked, “From what I saw at St. Elizabeth’s, I’m really not surprised. If you’re ever in an accident and the EMTs want to take you to St. Elizabeth’s, get out of the ambulance!”
“…and the billing will be processed for your care.”
Aha! Now we come to the essence of your view of this incident. Of course you can’t admit to having done anything wrong, because that might compromise your ability to collect from the insurance company for my wife’s treatment! That’s truly appalling.
In summary, it is indisputable that mistakes were made in my wife’s care. I brought these mistakes to your attention with the expectation that you would acknowledge them, apologize, and use them as an opportunity for improvement. Instead, you evaded, lied, and falsely (and libelously) laid the blame on others. Because of this, my wife and I will never again willingly seek treatment for our family at your hospital; we will strongly discourage all of our friends and neighbors from doing so; and we will continue to aggressively pursue any and all third-party avenues of complaint that are open to us.
|Dr. C… L…
|Appeals and Grievances Department
|Tufts Health Plan
|705 Mount Auburn Street
|Post Office Box 9193
|Watertown, MA 02471-9193
|Division of Health Care Quality
|Massachusetts Department of Public Health
|99 Chauncy Street
|Boston, MA 02111-1212
|Office for Civil Rights
|U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
|Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations
|Office of Quality Monitoring
|One Renaissance Boulevard
|Oak Brook Terrace, IL 60180