Hospitals fined in playwright’s death

Two New York hospitals have been fined and subjected to scathing criticism of their emergency care after the death of Jonathan Larson, author of the smash Broadway musical "Rent."

The death of 35-year-old Larson has generated a great deal of publicity because of its tragic timing just days before his play opened to glowing reviews, plus the wide disparity between the diagnoses Larson received at two hospitals and his actual medical condition. He died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, which left a rip in the aorta more than a foot long, after being told he had food poisoning or a virus.

A four-month investigation by the New York state health department found fault with the care provided at both Cabrini Medical Center and St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center. Larson’s rare condition might have been successfully treated, state officials concluded, but doctors did not search aggressively enough for the cause of pain so intense that the young man was rushed to the emergency department twice in the week before his death in January 1996. Larson was found dead on his kitchen floor.

Cabrini was fined $10,000 and St. Vincent’s $6,000, according to health department spokeswoman Kristine Smith. Such fines are rare, she says, even though the department conducts about 1,700 investigations a year and finds deficiencies in about a third of those. The fine is levied only when the hospital is guilty of serious oversight that harms a patient, she explains.

In addition, the health department recommended that the state consider investigating several of the doctors involved for professional misconduct. The department’s report stops short of saying the hospitals caused the man’s death, but it does say they should have provided more appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment. Representatives of both hospitals declined to comment beyond releasing a statement saying their care was appropriate considering the difficulty in diagnosing such a condition. t

Troubled hospital suffers another medical mishap

University Community Hospital in Tampa, FL, is in the news once again for a serious medical error that killed a patient.

In the latest problem, a patient died after he was administered Toradol, which is similar to aspirin, even though his records indicated he was allergic to aspirin. The 64-year-old man had sought care in the hospital’s emergency department for breathing problems related to asthma, and a physician’s assistant prescribed the drug. A nurse later gave him the Toradol. He soon suffered a heart attack and went into a coma.

The hospital quickly admitted to the error publicly. Hospital spokesman Pete Moberg tells Healthcare Risk Management that the physician’s assistant was suspended for 30 days, and the nurse was suspended for 14 days. The physician responsible for supervising both of them went through the hospital’s peer review process, but the results were not disclosed.

Previous incidents included amputation of the wrong leg of a 51-year-old man, arthroscopy on the wrong knee of a woman, and the death of a 77-year-old man who, instead of another patient, was removed from his respirator.