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Grand Jury Investigation Into Philadelphia Abortion Doctor Finds Lapses in State Oversight

Grand Jury Investigation Into Philadelphia Abortion Doctor Finds Lapses in State Oversight

March 22, 2011 — New details from a grand jury report blame Pennsylvania's Department of State for allowing abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell to keep practicing for nearly 40 years, despite several complaints made to the department's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs by patients, doctors and insurers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In January, Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder.

Pennsylvania law requires physicians to notify the bureau when they are involved in a malpractice lawsuit, at which point lawyers decide which cases to present before the state Board of Medicine. From 2002 to 2009, five such filings involving Gosnell were brought to the department, but lawyers who handled the cases were unaware of previous complaints filed against Gosnell, according to the grand jury report. No action was taken in those five complaints.

Department of State Chief Counsel Steven Turner acknowledged that at least 13 malpractice cases filed against Gosnell since 1981 were not investigated properly by lawyers on the staff.

The department also failed to investigate suspicions that Gosnell was practicing without medical malpractice insurance from July 2004 to mid-April 2005, which is a violation of state law. Years after a lawyer representing one of Gosnell's clients in a malpractice lawsuit asked the department to investigate Gosnell's insurance status, federal drug authorities discovered the lapse in coverage.

According to Turner, the lack of action in the cases was a "failure to perform by certain individuals" and did not result from a shortage of resources. Turner said he is working to improve communication and streamline reviews to ensure that the same lawyers see all cases against a single physician.

The department received a negative review last week from Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group. It said the state took no action against 70% of the physicians cited for poor performance between 1990 and 2009, compared with 57% in New Jersey and 55% nationwide (Conaboy, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21).