Lawsuit alleges poor care killed patients

A federal workplace discrimination suit filed in San Jose federal court last week alleges that substandard care killed patients at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a county safety net hospital.
The plaintiffs--Thressa Walker, a medical administrative assistant in the cardiology department, Dr. Geeta Singh, a cardiologist, and Dr. Kai Ihnken, chief of cardiothoracic surgery--claim they were ignored or embarrassed for speaking up. Ihnken said his contract wasn't renewed, because he spoke up.
Although Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith says external and internal inspectors found no evidence of negligence in the deaths, he did say the cardiology department is dysfunctional because of many personality conflicts.

The following were named as defendants in the case: Santa Clara County and Valley Medical Center; Dr. Hollister Brewster, chief of cardiology; Dr. Alfonso Banuelos, chief medical officer; Dr. Dolly Goel, medical director; and Dr. Peter Gregor, a cardiologist.
The 74-page suit bristles with allegations of retaliation, discrimination, a hostile work environment, invasion of privacy, slander and inflicted emotional distress. In one of the worst allegations, a patient died in February 2009 after Dr. Singh advised him not to get a stress test on his heart.

Instead, she recommended a cardiac catheterization, which the patient agreed to because of a strong family history of heart disease. A subsequent cardiologist ignored the patient's wishes and Singh's advice and subjected the patient to a stress test, the lawsuit alleges. The patient died. This incident also became part of a complaint about poor patient safety filed with the Joint Commission.

In another case, Dr. Ihnken wanted to perform surgery on a heart patient sooner, but administrators said no and the patient died, according to the suit.

To learn more:
- here's the complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court
- read the San Jose Mercury News story