LI doctor accused of resuing needles

Patients at risk for HIV, hepatitis
January 16, 2008 3:59:57 PM PST
Dozens of patients of a doctor on Long Island are being urged to get tested for HIV and hepatitis after the health department says he reused syringes.The patients were given flu shots at the Dr. E. Jacob Simhaee's office in Manhasset.

Long Island reporter Emily Smith has the story.

The Nassau County health department says 36 patients who received flu shots from Dr. Simhaee have already been told to get tested.

This time, health department officials notified the public right away, instead of waiting three years like in a similar case this fall.

"I wouldn't go to him," area resident Pina Vaccaro said. "Of course, I wouldn't."

That's how it seems everyone is reacting to a second outrageous scenario in Nassau County of a licensed doctor reusing syringes.

No one answered the door today at the office of Dr. Simhaee, a Manhasset OBGYN now deemed by the state and county to have put 36 of his patients coming in for flu shots at risk for HIV and hepatitis.

"Clearly was an oversight on his part," said Dr. Abbey Greenberg, acting commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Health.

It is a significant oversight, considering once a needle is pulled out of the arm, a vacuum is created that leaves a little backflow of blood in the syringe. At that point, the next patient is exposed to blood-borne diseases.

Now, Nassau County residents want to know how a licensed doctor doesn't know better?

"I think he's the best person to answer that question," Dr. Greenberg said. "It would be wrong for me to say why he did this."

The doctor's attorney would only send a statement saying, "The doctor, state and county have been working as a team in the interest of all of our patients."

This incident follows a recent investigation into another local doctor, Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, cited by the county and state for reusing syringes during epidural procedures at his Plainview pain clinic. He reportedly left more than 10,000 patients wondering if they could be infected.

In that case, the state and county waited several years to alert patients, causing a fire storm of criticism.

This time, the state says, "The public has asked to be alerted promptly when a public health risk occurs. This earlier public notification reflects that concern."

While the county health department says the two recent cases of reusing syringes are an extremely uncommon practice, some residents say something more than notifying patients needs to be done.

Emily: "Do you think his license should be taken away?"
John Dolan, resident: "Oh yeah I do. Or at least for a reasonable amount of time. This is your life. You're not dealing with a car.

It is up to the state to decide whether Dr. Simhaee's license will be suspended. The investigation is ongoing. Dr. Finkelstein's license was not revoked or suspended.