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New Jersey Doctor Gets Hospital Privileges Back Despite Performing Fatal Wrong-Site Surgery

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My friend and fellow blogger, Steve Lombardi from the Lombardi Law Firm, relentlessly educates and advocates when it comes to safety. For example, in one of his recent blog posts he wrote about wrong-site surgery. This is a very interesting topic to me, since I can’t figure out why it’s so difficult to double-check that you are operating on the right body part before cutting into a patient. But a New Jersey doctor made the situation even worse when he decided to alter the medical records to cover up for his mistake.

Richard Flagg, the patient who sustained the wrong-site surgery, was admitted to Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey on August 29, 2000 to have a cancerous tumor removed from his left lung. Instead, the lower and middle part of his right lung was removed. However, when he woke up from surgery, Doctor Santusht Perera told Flagg that he had an even larger tumor on his right lung and that he had actually saved his life by removing the parts of that lung instead. A few months later Flagg picked up his hospital records and the pathology report was on top of the pile, which indicated that there was no evidence of a tumor in Flagg’s right lung. According to the state’s complaint, the removal of large portions of the right lung made it impossible for the cancerous tumor to be removed from Flagg’s left lung. Flagg subsequently died on September 8, 2003 at 63 years old.

Eventually, The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners found Dr. Perera guilty of wrong-site surgery at Meadowlands Hospital and also of altering the medical records and lying to Flagg to cover up the mistake. Perera owes $80,000 in fines, had his license suspended for six months, and was placed on probation from December 7, 2008 to June 6, 2010. Nevertheless, he’ll be back on the job by July 22 this year: according to a New Jersey newspaper, Hoboken University Medical Center granted him privileges to practice again even though both Meadowlands Hospital and the Jersey City Medical Center denied him privileges. According to the news article, Hoboken felt that they had to grant Perera privileges since he had privileges at that hospital prior to his suspension.