UNew Mexico Hospital negligence led to 'massive failure in care,' lawsuit alleges

Testimony last week in a proposed class-action lawsuit against University of New Mexico Hospital revealed new information about the hospital's oversight of its pediatric oncology program. The case claims the hospital's institutional negligence was partially responsible for a "massive failure in care," the Albuquerque Journal reports. 

Six things to know:

1. The lawsuit says 243 acute lymphoblastic leukemia pediatric patients at Albuquerque-based UNM Hospital received diluted, outdated drug treatments from 1977 to 1997, administered by former pediatric oncology division chief Marilyn Duncan, MD. The physician gave patients a substandard treatment that increased risk of relapse and death, Claudio Sandoval, MD, a New York City-based pediatric oncology expert, testified.

2. In 1986, physicians from Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reviewed the UNM pediatric oncology program and found it wasn't "employing standard protocols," lawsuit documents state. The institute notified UNM Hospital of such findings in 1987.

3. After the review, UNM Hospital leaders did not take action to put children on protocols, Jonathan Burroughs, MD, president and CEO of Burroughs Healthcare Consulting Network, testified.

4. The hospital didn't take action until newly hired physicians for the pediatric oncology department voiced concern upon discovery of the treatment, Dr. Burroughs claimed. In early 1997, a new physician found the survival rate for UMN ALL pediatric patients was around 50 percent, far below published national rates that were more than 70 percent.

5. Dr. Duncan was suspended in late 1997 and retired. Patients were placed on standard protocols, Dr. Burroughs said. Since then, UNM Hospital has settled 93 related settlements for a total of $52 million.

6. The current case, filed in 2001, names three proposed class representatives: two parents of deceased patients and a 31-year-old survivor. The plaintiffs seek to recover damages for the patients' lost chance at the best outcome. If certified, proposed class members would be notified and choose to be involved. As of Dec. 13, no trial date has been set, and class-action status won't be determined until 2020.

When asked about current treatment for children with ALL, a UNM Hospital spokesperson told the Albuquerque Journal Dec. 13 that the hospital could not comment on ongoing litigation.

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