UC to Pay $1.2 Million in Lawsuit

After facing allegations of falsification of records and negligence of anesthesiologists at the UC Irvine Medical Center, the University of California agreed last Wednesday to pay a $1.2 million settlement despite UC Regents denying allegations.

The allegations of gross negligence and falsification of records were brought forth in 2008 by a former professor of anesthesiology at UC Irvine School of Medicine, Dr. Dennis O’Connor.

Inducing an unconscious state and exposing the body to controlled levels of toxic chemicals, the process of administering anesthesia can potentially be dangerous with risks including severe allergic reactions and brain damage. Due to the potential risks involved for the patients, protocol states that an anesthesiologist must be present when anesthesia is administered.

O’Connor alleged that the UCI Medical Center broke protocol in allowing nurse anesthetists or residents to administer anesthesia without the supervision of an anesthesiologist in the immediate area — the medical center would then bill Medicare as if doctors were present.

This alleged breach in federal practice, fraudulently billing Medicare, allowed O’Connor and the Department of Justice to open a federal suit against the UC regents, the UC Irvine Medical Center, and others.

The settlement reached will pay $120,000 to O’Connor and the remainder to the federal government — no restitutions to patients will be paid from the $1.2 million.

The UCI Medical Center has faced similar accusations in recent history, being placed under state supervision in 2008 for the anesthesiology department’s “inability to provide quality healthcare in a safe environment,” according to a federal report.

In 2008, the California Medical Board brought forth allegations against Peter Breen, former department head of anesthesiology, accusing him of gross negligence and incompetence.

Two years later, the medical board publically reprimanded Breen for falsifying medical paperwork — writing that a patient was “comfortable” and “stable” prior to administering anesthesia.

Despite instating changes in training and policies, including an electronic record-keeping system for anesthesiologists, the UC Irvine Medical Center still faces allegations from patients and former employees.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, O’Connor, who has since worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, expressed his continued unease with the UC Irvine Medical Center.

“I won’t go there, and I wouldn’t take my family there,” O’Connor said.