Attorney General, District Attorney and Medical Board Should Take Over Investigation of Hospital Where 13-Year-Old Girl Is On Life Support after Routine Surgery

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Santa Monica, CA – After learning that the hospital where a 13-year-old girl is on life support after routine tonsil-removal surgery has refused to release her medical records to the family, Consumer Watchdog today called on the California Attorney General, Alameda County District Attorney and California Medical Board to take over the investigation into the case.

Children’s Hospital of Oakland sought to remove the child, Jahi McMath, from life support against her family’s wishes, and refrained only after being served a cease-and-desist order on Tuesday.

“We need no further evidence than its refusal to share basic information with the family about their daughter’s care to see that Children’s Hospital can’t impartially investigate its own possible negligence,” said Carmen Balber with Consumer Watchdog. “The Attorney General, District Attorney and Medical Board must step in today while the evidence is still preserved.”

In the letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Medical Board President Sharon Levine, Consumer Watchdog wrote:

“Unlike airplane crashes, where a black box is retrieved and investigators are immediately dispatched, the facts surrounded medical negligence tragedies are often buried by hospitals, which control the investigation and have a conflict of interest in finding the truth.  Peer review is an ineffective tool for assessing who is to blame in tragedies like Jahi’s.  In this case, the hospital is unwilling to even share the basic facts with the public or family.

“We’ve also been told of other cases at Children’s Hospital of Oakland in which medical records were withheld from families, and of similar pressure tactics to quickly remove children from life support.  Is withholding information from families after catastrophic events a pattern at Children’s Hospital?

“The involvement of your offices is warranted by more than the apparent medical negligence, but by the conduct of the hospital in demanding that the patient’s life support be terminated quickly, despite the wishes of the family.  Particularly suspicious is the hospital’s refusal to be forthcoming about the circumstances involving the tragedy and to provide medical records to the family.

“As you probably know, in a case where negligence is suspected, California law makes it highly advantageous for the medical providers and facilities involved if children die in hospitals rather than live a lifetime with catastrophic injuries and significant medical costs. Under a 38-year-old law, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), that has never been indexed for inflation, the most a family can recover in court for the loss of a child is $250,000, no matter how egregious the malpractice.  By contrast, the hospital would be responsible for a lifetime of care and caretaking if the patient lives.  In the hospital’s rush to terminate Jahi’s life, this conflict of interest was no doubt never explained to the family.  

“Your offices can help by dispatching investigators to secure answers to the following questions, which have the potential to lead to manslaughter charges:

1.    How did a routine procedure end so badly?
2.    Why is the hospital refusing to supply the family with the patients’ medical records?  Have they violated state law by such a refusal?
3.    What right did the hospital have to terminate Jahi’s life when the family objected? Was the family advised of the hospital’s conflict of interest due to the MICRA law?
4.    Were any of the doctors involved in Jahi’s care impaired? Were their privileges suspended following the incident?
5.    Who at the hospital is responsible for reviewing the incident? Has an independent medical expert been retained?  

“Given the details of this case, we urge you to decide today to have your staff secure copies of the relevant medical records and interview witnesses as soon as possible to prevent any tampering with evidence or witnesses.”

Read the letter:

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Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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