Complaint Against Dix Hills Doctor At Center of Hepatitis Scare Poorly Handled

Raymond Bookstaver says he contracted hepatitis C in Dr. Harvey Finkelstein office.  Bookstaver filed a complaint against Finkelstein in 2005, but almost three years later, the state Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) had not told him the results of its probe and investigators have not interviewed him.  Turns out, his complaint was closed last September and the OPMC neglected to advise him, said Claudia Hutton, a state Department of Health spokeswoman, who added, “We apologize for the error.”

Finkelstein is the Dix Hills doctor who the state Department of Health says put thousands of patients at risk to blood-borne pathogen infections such as hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS by reusing syringes.  Finkelstein most recently settled a <"">medical malpractice lawsuit with a Syosset man who claimed he contracted hepatitis C in Finkelstein’s office.  Finkelstein continues to practice and has now settled an unprecedented 11 malpractice lawsuits in eight years.

Bookstaver received epidural spinal injections for back pain from Finkelstein in July 2004.  His hepatitis C diagnosis came in October 2004 and he made his complaint after receiving the May 2005 Health Department letter reporting that Finkelstein patients were at risk.  Hutton said Bookstaver should receive a letter shortly stating the case was resolved without disciplinary action; the letter will not address if Bookstaver was infected in Finkelstein’s office.  “Oh, that’s very nice of them,” Bookstaver, 50 of Hicksville, said, adding:  “It just boggles the mind how they don’t care.”

New York is among only a few states that do not name physicians if they are not found guilty of misconduct; New York also does not hold public disciplinary hearings.  In Finkelstein’s case, a hearing was never held and the doctor was placed under state monitoring for three years; Bookstaver was never advised of this.  Also, New York state never determined how Bookstaver was infected.  “New York’s system is designed to protect the doctor,” said a former member of the State Legislature medical conduct task force. “It is overly bureaucratic and overly secretive, and everything takes too long.”

State officials said Bookstaver’s complaint took longer to resolve than most.  An average complaint is dismissed or forwarded for a hearing in 234 days, Hutton said.  Bookstaver’s complaint, filed on July 27, 2005, was handled by OPMC’s New Rochelle office, which then had the highest caseloads in the state, a state comptroller’s audit found.

Bookstaver’s wife, Loretta, made regular phone calls to the OPMC with no satisfactory results and then turned to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, via letter in August 2006.  Her complaint letters were forwarded to the Health Department.  Dennis Whalen, who was the department’s number two official at that time, responded to Clinton with details of a probe into hepatitis C transmissions, adding that the separate “OPMC matters are strictly confidential.”

Now, the State Legislature is considering a bill proposed by Governor David A. Paterson to drastically overhaul the state’s physician-discipline system.  The bill was, in part, inspired by the New York’s delay in waiting three years before publicizing the Finkelstein’s case, which—due to his shoddy infection control practices—forced the notification of thousands of patients.

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