LOS ANGELES-The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services has convened a special panel to investigate the death of a gunshot victim who waited for hours at Los Angeles County Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center before a vascular surgeon could be found to operate. Mark Finucane, county health director, convened the panel on May 15 and said it would complete its review of the matter within several weeks. "There were a number of lapses in the patient reports as to what happened, and that's why I've called for this panel," Finucane said. He declined to comment on specifics in the case until the panel completes its work. The Los Angeles Times reported that 31-year-old Torin Comeaux died on April 13 at LAC-University of Southern California Medical Center after surgery. He had arrived in the emergency room of King-Drew the previous day after suffering a gunshot wound to the knee. He spent more than seven hours in the emergency room waiting for a vascular surgeon before he was airlifted to LAC-USC. He suffered a seizure prior to surgery and had to be resuscitated. He died shortly after surgery. King-Drew, in south central Los Angeles, is designated as a Level I trauma center. Its emergency room treats so many gunshot victims that military surgeons often train there to prepare them for combat medical care. But according to the Times, vascular surgeons were not available at King-Drew during the time Comeaux was at the emergency room, even though one was supposed to be available on 30-minutes' notice. "It's sometimes very difficult to recruit and hire various type of specialty surgeons because the level of reimbursement they receive does not justify their being available," said Jim Lott, senior vice president of the Healthcare Association of Southern California.
SAN FRANCISCO-Blue Shield of California has agreed to a $12 million civil settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve charges that some Blue Shield employees falsified performance audit reports from 1988 to 1994 under the company's HCFA contract to administer Medicare Part B medical claims. In response to those charges, Blue Shield pleaded guilty last April to three counts of criminally obstructing a federal audit and paid a $1.5 million fine. The plan has exited the Medicare claims-processing business but now offers a Medicare risk HMO to seniors.
CASTRO VALLEY, Calif.-Voters within the Eden Township Hospital District have decided to allow 259-bed Eden Medical Center to affiliate with Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health. An initiative to approve the affiliation passed 55% to 45%, with about 58,000 votes cast. As part of the affiliation, a new not-for-profit corporation will be formed to run the hospital, and the district will surrender all noncash assets to Sutter. In exchange, Sutter will retire the hospital's debt, take charge of daily operations and pay the district a sum not to exceed $40 million.