July 15, 2008

Tenet Pays $2 Million Over Delay in Stroke Treatment

By Phil Galewitz, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Jul. 15--Tenet Healthcare Corp. has paid nearly $2 million to settle a malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a Boca Raton woman who died in 2004 after two of its hospitals failed to find a neurosurgeon to treat her stroke.

The lawsuit was settled in late April, though the payment was not disclosed to the state Office of Insurance Regulation until last month.

According to the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, the four-hour delay in treating Barbara Masterson contributed to her death.

Masterson, 52, awoke on Feb. 22, 2004, with slurred speech and weakness on her right side, according to the lawsuit and attorney Gary Cohen.

The woman was bleeding in her brain when she arrived at Tenet's West Boca Medical Center emergency room. The hospital tried calling four neurosurgeons, all of whom refused to come in to treat Masterson.

West Boca had a transfer agreement with Delray Medical Center, also Tenet-owned, but a doctor there also refused to come in to treat her.

By the time Masterson was transferred to Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, she was unresponsive and paralyzed on her right side. She underwent surgery but died March 2.

Masterson, a former ER nurse, is survived by her husband, James, disabled with multiple sclerosis, and three adult children.

"You expect when you get to the front door of a hospital, you will see a doctor to treat you right away," James Masterson said. "To not be able to find a doctor is incomprehensible." Over the past four years in Palm Beach County, showing up at a hospital ER has been a little like playing Russian roulette because of the shortage of specialists. The problem has persisted among several specialties, including neurosurgery.

Since 2004, stroke care in the county has improved as several hospitals, including Delray Medical, have become state-designated stroke centers with the ability to handle emergency stroke patients 24 hours a day.

Tenet Healthcare (NYSE: THC, $5.51), which owns five Palm Beach County hospitals, would not comment, citing a confidentiality agreement.

"However, we have made great strides in our stroke care over the last several years," said spokesman David Matthews.


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