In the middle of all the news about Lance Armstrong and his upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey – where he has reportedly expressed his apologies for his years of lies and cover-ups over blood doping and steroid use, came this interesting piece by Lance Pugmire at The Los Angeles Times. In the article, several of Armstrong’s teammates and their families talk about what they consider to be the worst aspect of this entire scandal – the years of intimidation, threats and forced silence. Armstrong committed these abuses of the system, and flagrant cheating for years, and got away with it for over a decade. Not only that – but he had a team comprised to maintain this conspiracy of silence, of lawyers and such to protect Armstrong – while his unwilling colleagues paid the price for their honesty and integrity..
In a similar, but much smaller scale – I am publishing an open letter here at Bogota Surgery. As my regular readers know – we have had our own legal encounters (with threats and intimidation) over several of our previous posts about patient safety.
This all started due to a blog post on patient safety – based on an article from another website, verified by the original news agency and the original investigative reporter.
These fact-based, well-researched posts with supporting documents told the story of a surgeon who had committed multiple surgical errors including several different ‘wrong-sided’ surgeries. This surgeon, after being reported to the medical board in her state answered this action by moving to another state (where malpractice charges are now pending) and ultimately moved to a third state to practice.
However, one of the limitations of having state-based medical regulatory boards (versus a nationalized system) was that these complaints did not follow the doctor.. Meaning that when current patients / hospitals/ potential employers investigate or look up her licensure or credentials – they will have no idea of the previous charges against her. However, by publishing a blog post about this individual and re-posting links to original news articles and court documents, her lawyers threatened me with legal action to enact my silence.
So this is my response – in an open letter to her lawyer:
First, I would like to extend my sincerest sympathies to you. I am guessing that you are a nice person, and are working hard to perform your occupation to the best of your abilities. But by taking on this client, you are doing yourself and American patients a great disservice.
Your client has been found to be medically negligent in multiple cases in the state of Colorado. She acknowledged that through her own actions, and she now stands accused of the same in Illinois. Not only that, her brazen disregard for the health and safety of the unfortunate people who came under her care led to changes in the laws and regulations of the Colorado Medical Board. She may claim that she did not ‘lose’ her license in that state, but it was her actions that demonstrated to the medical board that there were significant loopholes in their processes that allowed physicians who admitted guilt, like your client, to move on to another state without penalty.
However, all of this is fact, and it is public record, so you and your client have no cause or claim against me for writing about these published facts. In my previous writing, I included supporting articles and documents to demonstrate that what I reported, was indeed, fact.
One of those facts in particular, is that – yes, you are targeting and bullying me. It is bullying and an intimidation tactic to threaten to sue someone for writing an established truth. It is bullying and a targeted attack, when it has been confirmed that you have not approached or sent similar letters to major news outlets such as the news agency that wrote and produced the original story, or another large agency that republished the story. But then again, large agencies have legal departments. So, yes, it is a targeted intimidation when you threaten me.
You may be just doing your job today, but what about tomorrow or ten years from now? Unfortunately, you are just part of a bigger problem in regards physicians and medical malpractice, which is what the heart of this discussion is really about; a surgeon who makes repeated surgical mistakes and then denies they ever occurred. That may not affect you, personally today but what about when one of your loved ones needs care for heart surgery, cancer or maybe even a brain tumor? How much confidence can you have in a system that allows surgeons such as this one to continue to practice? How much confidence will you have, knowing how easy it is to threaten others into silence?
My heart goes out to you, but my only advice is – give the money back to your client. Take no part in her actions and let people like myself continue our efforts; of trying to promote patient safety, education and protect this public, and people like you.