New York hospital cuts corners on weight-loss surgeries, sources claim: New York Times

The New York Times published an investigation Dec. 7, pointing to a number of concerns with the bariatric surgery program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, part of NYC Health + Hospitals. 

The report is based on interviews with dozens of Bellevue current and former employees and patients, as well as internal documents, court filings and medical records, and claims the hospital often rushes processes to push more patients through the operation and has performed the surgery on patients with body mass indexes that were not high enough to qualify them for the procedure under standard guidelines. This year, Bellevue is on track to perform a record 3,000 weight-loss surgeries, according to the Times

Christopher Miller, a spokesperson for Bellevue, told the Times the hospital's bariatric program is a much-needed service for its patients who often struggle to get medical care. Most of the hospital's patients are on Medicaid or are uninsured. 

"There's an incredible need and demand for this surgery," he told the news outlet, citing a 2023 report from the American College of Surgeons recognizing Belleveue for its bariatric surgery program. 

Guidelines from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery recommend weight-loss surgery for severely obese patients who have a BMI of at least 35, or at least 30 if patients have certain other medical conditions. Eight physicians and nurses the Times spoke with said they were involved in surgeries on patients whose BMIs were below 30. 

Fifteen current and former employees at the hospital questioned whether patients were fully informed about the risks of undergoing bariatric surgery ahead of their procedure, according to the Times. More than two dozen employees at Bellevue told the news outlet a known principle in the bariatric department is to operate on as many patients as quickly as possible, with six saying they were aware of a daily "race" between two bariatric surgeons.

Employees also claimed that patients needing urgent care, such as those with minor stab wounds, broken bones and detached fingers, regularly wait hours for surgery because bariatric cases were occupying ORs, though noted life-threatening emergencies always got priority. 

The report notes the hospital has recruited patients from the city's Rikers Island jail complex, two of whom told the Times they became malnourished after not being able to maintain appropriate diets upon returning to prison after the operation. In all, 11 prisoners have undergone the procedure at Bellevue. 

Earlier this year, staff operated on a pregnant patient after forgetting to review the patient's pregnancy test before the surgery, employees told the Times

Mr. Miller denied many of the reports' claims, including that the hospital operated on any patients who were unqualified and that it rushed the screening and approval process. Patients sign forms acknowledging the risks of bariatric surgery, he told the Times, adding that such information is "discussed at several points," through a screening period that typically lasts three to six months.

In a Dec. 7 email to Becker's, Mr. Miller shared links to patients' success stories after having bariatric surgery at Bellevue Hospital. The Times' report states the spokesperson accused the news outlet of cherry-picking negative examples and misrepresents the program's success. 

"We are saving lives in large numbers," Mr. Miller told the Times. "To frame this any other way is wrong and a disservice to our patients, our employees and New Yorkers." 


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