Deaths raise concerns at Mount Sinai

December 9, 2009 3:55:50 PM PST
It's considered one of the nation's best hospitals, but is that the case seven days a week? An Eyewitness News investigation has found some unexpected deaths at Mount Sinai that have two families sounding a warning about weekend care at the renown hospital.

Just days before entering the hospital for routine knee replacement surgery, Henry Delle Porte shared a wonderful dinner with his entire family. It turned out to be his last.

"Just one look at my dad on that Saturday morning and I knew there was something very wrong," said his daughter, Louise Mari.

Two days after surgery at Mount Sinai, Delle Porte was transferred to the hospital's rehab center. His family notices his stomach is distended and they repeatedly point this out to the staff.

"He looked over 9 months pregnant and he was propped up in the bed. I said, 'Daddy.' He said 'I don't feel right,'" explained Mari.

The next day, a Saturday, the attending physician ordered an x-ray. Hours went by, but an x-ray was still not taken even after the family pleaded with the staff.

"I was told more than once, 'You have to understand, it's Saturday.' When I asked for the x-rays to be done or where is the gastrologist, they said, 'Well, there is one gastrologist and one radiologist. You know, it's Saturday,'" she said.

Four hours later, Delle Porte finally received his x-ray, but then the family said a doctor never showed up to look at the results. Ninety minutes later, a code blue was sounded as Delle Porte began to choke on his own vomit. Within 10 minutes, he was dead.

"Everyone was trying to talk to me, to tell me what happened, and I said 'but where were you all day? I was here. I saw what happened,;" said Mari.

What the Delle Porte family didn't know at the time was that six months earlier another patient died at Mount Sinai Rehab Center. His death also occurred on the weekend. State investigators found that the staff had failed to provide the patient with basic medical care.

His name was Kevin Deane, a Yonkers firefighter who had dislodged a disc in a Colorado skiing accident. When Deane was brought to Mount Sinai to recover, he was already in pain because a piece of surgical hardware implanted in his neck in Colorado had punctured his esophagus.

"He was in such pain in his throat. We kept saying get someone. We'd go out to the nurses' station and we were told someone is coming," said his sister, Erin Howard.

For two days, no doctor examined Deane. He died choking on his own blood. Among the state health investigator findings, there was "no attending physician on duty " on Saturday and Sunday.

"You're assuming someone should be helping. You're doing everything on your own and basically begging for people to help. That's not what a hospital should be like, especially Mt. Sinai, which is supposed to be a center of excellence," said Howard.

These two cases bear striking similarities to the death of Mike Hurewitz in 2002. He too choked to death on his own blood after donating part of his liver to his brother. The state charged the hospital with 18 violations for leaving 34 patients in the care of one inexperienced first-year resident.

"There is a pattern of neglect and abandonment of patients under their care," said attorney Stephen Samuels.

Samuels, who represented Hurewitz, is now filing suit against Mount Sinai in the Deane and Delle Porte deaths. "When you have patients that are in dire need of medical evaluation and medical care and there are no attending physicians that have seen them in two days, I would consider that abandonment," said Samuels.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, a spokesperson for the hospital said, "We are unable to comment on the details of these cases because of patient confidentiality laws and pending litigation, but we stand by the quality of care that we provide to every one of our patients."

A medical consumer watchdog says the three deaths point to a serious weekend staffing problem at Mt. Sinai.

"I would hope that the Department of Health would begin to get a pattern of this problem that would lead it to go to this hospital and say, 'Look, there is a pattern here that needs correction and we expect you to correct it," said Arthur Levin of the Center for Medical Consumers.


REPORTED BY: Eyewitness News reporter Jim Hoffer