Montefiore hospital threatens legal action against Wall Street Journal

Montefiore Medical Center has said it will take legal action against The Wall Street Journal unless the newspaper retracts a claim made in its April 29 report that a patient "died on a ventilator with a setting turned too high by residents who didn't know how to operate the device." After two investigations, Montefiore said the assertion is baseless, according to The Washington Post.

The WSJ report features accounts from residents in New York City hospitals during its surge of COVID-19 patients. The incident in question involves the death of a woman in her 60s in mid-March, in a unit of the Bronx’s Montefiore Medical Center called Northwest 7. It was not specified whether the woman had COVID-19. 

In a letter sent Wednesday to the WSJ, Montefiore Chief Legal Officer Christopher Panczner wrote: "Despite an exhaustive review of medical and operational records, as well as interviews of over thirty individuals, no support could be found for the outrageous allegations of malpractice, leading to the death of a patient, contained in that article," The Post reports.

Here are a few steps Montefiore took in response to the allegation of malpractice, as detailed by The Post

  • Administrators pulled March death records for that hospital unit, but found no cases matched the circumstances detailed in the WSJ.
  • Administrators interviewed employees with possible awareness of the incident, including those in respiratory therapy, nursing, quality management, risk management, patient safety and residents themselves. "They could not identify an event of the sort that’s being reported in the article," Montefiore CMO Andrew Racine, MD, told The Post
  • Every resident who worked a shift in Northwest 7 in March was interviewed for an internal investigation led by Montefiore and an outside investigation led by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. "No resident raised an issue or concern about any case that might have fit this description," Montefiore spokesperson Hilary Lefebvre told The Post.
  • Two Montefiore physicians sent a letter to the editor of the WSJ with updates on the results of its internal investigation. An editor replied: "We won't publish a letter attacking our journalism and making claims that we don’t believe to be true."

The accreditation council concluded its investigation with a May 15 letter stating that findings “adequately addressed the concerns raised” to it and no further action would be taken. “The matter is closed.”

The WSJ maintains its reporting is accurate and said that Montefiore had 13 days to counter the account of residents' error causing a patient's death. 

“Our article was robustly sourced, fair and accurate, and we stand by the reporting,” WSJ spokesperson Steve Severinghaus wrote in an emailed statement to The Post. "The Journal practices ‘no-surprises journalism,’ and as always, we shared with Montefiore what our reporting had indicated and gave them 13 days to respond before publication. They declined."

The Post’s media critic, Erik Wemple, covered the matter in his column. He noted the WSJ's distinguished record for investigative journalism, but said that four Montefiore officials going on the record to counter the report warrants coverage.

 "They deserve a voice in the newspaper, whether it’s in the letters space, the article, or both."

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