By Laura Cooper
Stony Brook University Medical Center is the primary treatment facility for residents of Suffolk County. The center houses research facilities as well as classrooms for instruction in numerous subjects, including nursing. The hospital is also home to a treatment center with just over 500 beds for its patients. From pregnancies to allergic reactions, the medical center is the primary option for most residents and since it is a public hospital, it has become a haven for those without insurance. This is especially apparent because four East End hospitals are associated with, and transfer their patients to, Stony Brook Medical Center when the diagnosis is beyond their means. However, the past couple of years have brought attention to mismanagement in the hospital, including misdiagnosis that has led to deaths—especially involving their pediatric practices. The hospital has been under investigation and cited by the Department of Health numerous times, and though lately the center has managed to stay out of the spotlight, its grim past leaves the future of the Stony Brook Medical Center uncertain.
In 2005, a year before the New York State Health Department closed the Pediatric Cardiac Treatment Center citing “imminent danger to health and safety,” three children died under the care of the Stony Brook University Medical Center. One child died as a result of getting twenty sevent times worth the dosage of medication needed, another died after not receiving adequate pre-operation procedures for adenoid surgery and the third died after waiting a week for a surgeon to operate on a heart problem after being born prematurely. Stony Brook University Medical Center did not transfer the waiting child, but rather, left him while other facilities with a full-time staff could have operated on the baby.
A year later, another case brought the hospital back into the spotlight after a six year-old boy from Mastic, William Gonzalez, died under the hospital’s care. After being transferred from an East End hospital in Brookhaven, Gonzalez was treated at Stony Brook Medical Center three separate times before his eventual death at the hospital. Gonzalez, a first grader, was sent to the hospital and treated for reflux after an x-ray revealed that he had an enlarged heart. A state report on the matter stated, “There is no documented evidence that the heart problem was addressed.” Since then, the hospital has implemented the “P.E.A.S” System, or Pediatric Early Addressing Scores, which, among other things, monitors a patient’s heart and breathing in the hopes that no symptoms can be misdiagnosed. Gonzalez’s father responded positively to the program remarking to Newsday that he will be satisfied, “If my son’s death at Stony Brook was not in vain and if this [system] hopefully will not let another child or adult die.”
In the first set of lawsuits against the Medical Center, parents of patients in its Pediatric Cardiac Center sued after their children were mistreated following their diagnosis of heart birth defects and instead treated for stomach problems. Stony Brook University Medical Center was the one hospital in Suffolk County at the time that treated children with these specific problems. The charges against the hospital of this alleged misguided treatment were dropped this October after the health department’s investigation. Parents of patients who almost lost their lives at the hands of the cardiac center still band together in believing that if their children stayed at Stony Brook, they wouldn’t be alive today.
After it was announced that the medical center was responsible for nineteen violations in pediatric surgery and seventeen violations involving overlooking symptoms and overdoses in 2006 alone, a new Chief Executive, Steven L. Strongwater, took over the hospital in December 2006 and continues to monitor the hospital’s care today. Stony Brook University President, Shirley Strum Kenny, has also called for additional changes in the hospital’s staff and procedures and has commissioned a blue ribbon committee to research and address its findings of the faults in the Stony Brook Medical Center.
Though lately it seems it is business as usual at the Stony Brook Medical Center, it is unclear what the future holds for this hospital, which serves 400,000 patients per year. The hospital remains under investigation, and its treatment facilities are regularly assessed. Though originally the Medical Center attempted to restart the Pediatric Cardiac Center in the hospital, the treatment center remains closed indefinitely.