Two state lawmakers announced that they will introduce a sweeping package of reform legislation to correct the myriad failures uncovered in the case of a Long Island doctor who potentially exposed hundreds of patients to infectious diseases including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
According to Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-Rockland) and Senator Thomas Morahan (R-Rockland), published reports revealed that as many as 630 patients of a doctor identified by Newsday as Dr. Harvey Finkelstein may have been exposed because the doctor reused needles. State Health officials were aware of the problem dating back for more than three years before they notified the vast majority of the affected patients. Shockingly, the State Board of Professional Medical Conduct refused to suspend or revoke Finkelstein’s license.
“There are three separate scandals here,” explained Zebrowski, whose father, the late Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski died of complications from Hepatitis C earlier this year. “The first scandal is the callous disregard this doctor demonstrated for the health of his patients. Secondly, it is outrageous that the New York State Department of Health failed to inform hundreds of patients that they may have been exposed to deadly viruses. Finally, it is shameful that the Board of Professional Medical Conduct refused to take meaningful action in this case.”
“The Department of Health’s mission is to protect the public health,” added Morahan. “By refusing to notify patients for more than three years in this case, they have failed the public and endangered countless lives. Our legislation will hopefully prevent tragedies such as this from occurring in the future.”
The lawmakers noted that as a result of the Health Department’s failure to notify patients that they could be at risk, additional innocent New Yorkers could have been infected with Hepatitis or HIV. Moreover, since the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases runs for just 30 months, patients of Dr. Finkelstein lost their opportunity to recover damages and the cost of their care before they even knew of the potential for infection.
Among its provisions, the Zebrowski/Morahan legislation will:
- Create new felony sanctions for Medical professionals who infect patients with communicable diseases through reckless conduct such as re-using needles and sharps.
- Require the State Health Commissioner to inform all patients if a physician is believed to have exposed patients to communicable diseases through reckless conduct such as re-using needles.
- Mandate the immediate license suspension of any physician when the Health Commissioner determines that patients could have been exposed to communicable diseases through such reckless conduct.
- Require the State Health Department to notify all patients when a provider is believed to have exposed 2 or more patients to communicable diseases.
- Extend the statute of limitations in civil suits for medical malpractice until 30 months from the date a patient is informed that they may have been exposed to a communicable disease by the reckless conduct of a health care provider.
“I understand the tremendous impact that Hepatitis C has on patients and their families,” Zebrowski said. “It’s truly shocking that the Health Department failed to address this in a comprehensive manner for three years. Commissioner Daines and the Health Department need to be held accountable for this fundamental failure to protect and notify the public.”
“New York’s system of doctor discipline clearly failed in this case,” Morahan declared. “If a doctor potentially infects hundreds of innocent patients with deadly diseases, he needs more than a letter telling him not to do it again. The entire system of policing bad doctors needs to be reviewed.”