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Duque names doctors in surgical scam

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Duque names doctors in surgical scam
« on: April 23, 2008, 07:18:52 AM »
Duque names doctors in surgical scam
By Nancy R. Cudis

MANILA -- The Department of Health (DOH) finally named on Tuesday three doctors, a nurse, and a nursing attendant involved in the January 3 surgery of a florist at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC).

The procedure to remove a body spray canister from the 39-year-old patient's rectum was captured on camera and uploaded to YouTube, a video-sharing site.

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DOH Secretary Francisco Duque identified the doctors and nurses as Dr. Philips Leo Arias, head surgeon; Dr. Angelo Alinawagan, assistant surgeon; Dr. Max Joseph Montecillo, who is assigned to an adjacent operating room; nursing attendant Rosemarie Villareal; and circulating nurse Carmina Sapio.

In a press conference on Tuesday morning, Duque clarified that formal charges have not yet been filed against the doctors and nurses.

He said his office still has to send a show-cause letter, asking them to explain why they should not be charged.

In four to five days, a DOH central office lawyer will personally hand the letter to the five personnel through the VSMMC administration.

Their answers to the letter will be evaluated, while a formal investigation will be done jointly by the hospital and the DOH.

The investigation will include assessment of the gravity of offenses committed and the corresponding sanctions, before formal administrative charges can be filed.

Duque, however, said they still have to identify the person who posted the video clip on YouTube.

The video shows more than 10 people in an operating room shouting, giggling, and jeering, especially after the canister was removed.

One of the medical staff even opened the canister and sprayed it around.

The video also captured several individuals taking footage of the operation using cellular phones.

The patient, who wanted to be identified only as Jan-Jan, was unconscious all that time.

The controversy started when the video was uploaded to YouTube, reportedly by a nursing student, and shared through mobile phones, prompting the VSMMC to investigate.

The hospital's fact-finding committee found just three doctors and a nurse as the ones involved.

It recommended that an administrative complaint be filed against them for possible violation of provisions of Republic Act (RA) 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The hospital also issued a "stern warning" to one doctor and three nurses and advised them to be more cautious in performing their duties as supervisors.

The DOH in Central Visayas, which conducted its own inquiry, likewise pointed at the three doctors and the nurse as the ones who should be investigated.

It sent a copy of its own report to Duque last Monday.

But in an ANC report, Duque told a press conference that another nurse was involved. He said more than 10 people were actually in the operating room, including students, consultants and trainees.

He said the names of the others might be added to the list of who should be charged after the preliminary investigation, which may take a month to complete.

While he considered the case as isolated and commended the medical team for a successful and well-performed operation, he said the DOH will not tolerate their behavior.

"It could have been a very good and ideal case for people who would like to learn alternative procedures. It could have been a commendable operation but the plus factor was lost because of the issue," he said.

He pointed out the violations: not confining the room to the medical team involved; not prohibiting the use of cellular phones while an operation was ongoing; taking footage without the patient's consent; and lack of respect for the patient, as manifested by the jeering, laughing, and cheering captured by the video.

"Obviously there was a bridge of protocol," Duque said.

Duque added that the head surgeon, being the "captain of the ship," should have ensured that protocol was followed.

He said the DOH can only file administrative complaints and impose sanctions ranging from suspension to dismissal from government service.

Criminal complaints can be filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, he added, while the Professional Regulation Commission can look into the matter once the agency receives the complaint.

The PRC can reprimand those involved or even suspend or revoke their licenses.

"There is no whitewash (in our fact-finding). There is no such thing in our vocabulary. The patient should not worry. We will make sure that necessary penalties or sanctions are meted (out). But we have to understand that (the five medical staff) are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and not the other way around," Duque said in a radio dyLA interview.

He also requested that the competence and credibility of the attending medical team should not be confused with the "insensitive" behavior committed during the operation.

Dr. Jucel Ann Jumao-as, Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) Cebu chapter public relations officer, agreed with Duque and urged the public to look at both sides of the story.

"The doctors and nurses did good in the operation and in past operations. The call for revocation of their licenses is too much, as their licenses are what feed their families. While an operation should not be treated as a circus, we should also look at the circumstances on how and why the patient got into that situation," she said.

Apart from the DOH's preliminary investigation, the House of Representatives' committees on professional regulation and civil, political, and human rights were also asked to conduct a joint inquiry, in aid of legislation.

Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Baraquel, deputy minority floor leader, submitted a resolution asking for an inquiry yesterday afternoon, and it was approved.

"The condemnable conduct of the doctors, nurses, interns, and medical attendants involved in the incident displayed a blatant disregard for human dignity and human rights," she said.

Baraquel also asked that Congress exercise its oversight and legislative powers "to contribute to the efforts to stop the burden of oppression and stigma carried by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community."

She believes that the incident required legislative intervention "to imbibe and deepen the principles of human rights and human dignity among medical professionals, nurses, and nursing students."

Sun.Star Cebu tried but failed to get a reaction from Dr. Gerardo Aquino, VSMMC chief, who was reportedly attending to a family emergency.

A lawyer, who said he represented the nurses and doctors, said his clients will call for a press conference anytime soon to answer the issues raised against them.

A woman, who identified herself as mother of Dr. Arias, also called Sun.Star Cebu and said her 29-year-old son is willing to answer the charges when the case is brought to court.

She said they have three lawyers handling the matter.

She also told radio dyLA that Arias was innocent and not "demoralized" by the incident.

She admitted, though, that the family is hurt and worried why the son she raised well is accused of misconduct. She called it unfair for her son to be included since there were consultants supervising the operation.

The woman also appealed to members of the media, especially radio commentators, not to make conclusions about her son's capacity as a doctor just because of the incident.

Dr. Arias, she said, is generous, attending to calls even at night and giving out free medicines.

Dr. Arias, who got married just last year, spent three years as a VSMMC resident doctor after graduating from a reputable Cebu City university.

Meanwhile, Jan-Jan, a Basak Pardo, Cebu City resident, is "happy" that the identities of the doctors and nurses are now made public as it would not just strengthen his complaint but also hasten its resolution.

"Jan-Jan is grateful for the way the doctors and nurses saved his life by taking the canister out. But he is not appreciative of the way they behaved," said Barangay Captain Dave Tumulak, who is helping him.

Jan-Jan's camp is pursuing civil action for damages against the doctors and nurses this week, and will file a separate complaint with the PRC. (With CYR of Sun.Star Cebu/MSN/Sunnex)



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