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Suspended Brain Surgeons Supported By Expert

Wed, 04/28/2010 - 6:43am

Frank Eltman, AP

An expert on a rare form of brain surgery is backing a Long Island hospital under scrutiny after two of its top physicians were suspended for leaving a patient on the operating table.

In a review commissioned by North Shore/Long Island Jewish Health Systems, UCLA neurosurgeon James Ausman called the Long Island hospital's Chiari Institute “the finest center of its kind in the world.” A spokesman for North Shore, which released Ausman's review, declined to say how much the neurosurgeon was paid.

The institute draws patients worldwide who have a rare congenital brain defect called Chiari malformations, which can cause headaches, dizziness and other pain. Ausman cited the institute's experience and results with Chiari malformations, calling it “a model for the care and treatment of any disease entity.”

Two of the center's top surgeons were suspended last year after surgery for an anesthetized patient had to be canceled at the last minute when one failed to show up and the other refused to step in and perform the procedure.

Dr. Thomas Milhorat subsequently retired and Dr. Paolo Bolognese's clinical practice privileges were suspended for two weeks. The state health department cited North Shore/LIJ for 14 violations. The hospital offered a correction plan and avoided fines. Both Milhorat and Bolognese declined to comment, said Terry Lynam, a North Shore spokesman.

Crain’s New York, a leading business publication, identified Milhorat and Bolognese as among the New York City area's top medical earners in 2007, with Milhorat taking in $7.2 million and Bolognese earning $2.4 million. Lee Goldsmith, an attorney who said he represents 50 clients suing the institute alleging it performed unnecessary surgeries, derided North Shore's announcement.

“You can send as many press releases as you like, you can make as many comments in the media as you like,” Goldsmith said. “I will see you in court with my 50 clients and I will prove everything that you're saying false.”

Goldsmith did not expect any of the lawsuits to be heard in court until sometime in 2011. In his report, Ausman noted that Milhorat has published more Chiari-related research studies than any neurosurgeon in the world. Ausman also said in the statement that the institute relies on established treatments used by others around the world.

He said only 30 percent of patients who come to the institute receive surgery, but 80 percent who do report improved conditions. Dr. Richard Daines, the state health commissioner, praised North Shore/LIJ for commissioning the review and described the institute as “highly respected in the medical community.” Daines said the report demonstrated the hospital takes a cautious approach to performing surgery.

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