NRL News

Gosnell Grand Jury Excerpts: “DOH could have revoked the clinic’s license without waiting for a criminal prosecution that might never (and did not) happen. Yet no one from the department went to investigate Gosnell’s clinic.”

by | Apr 16, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

Page1re-216x300As the fifth week of the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell began yesterday, there were many more reporters in the courtroom, thanks to a flurry of criticism about the near complete media blackout. Yesterday NRL News Today began Section VI of the Grand Jury report which asks the question, “How Did This Go on So Long?” As you read these sections, the Grand Jury appears equal parts astonished by the indifference of health officials and angry.

The state Department of Health [DOH] failed to investigate Gosnell’s clinic even in  response to complaints.

According to DOH witnesses, sometime after 1993, DOH instituted a policy of inspecting abortion clinics only when there was a complaint. In fact, as this Grand Jury’s investigation makes clear, the department did not even do that. Janice Staloski, one of the evaluators of Gosnell’s clinic in 1992, 10 years later was the Director of DOH’s Division of Home Health – the unit that is inexplicably responsible for overseeing the quality of care in abortion clinics. In January 2002, an attorney representing Semika Shaw, a 22-year-old woman who had died following an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic, wrote to Staloski requesting copies of inspection reports for any on-site inspections of the clinic conducted by DOH. Staloski wrote to the attorney that no inspections had been conducted since 1993 because DOH had received no complaints about the clinic in that time.

Except that it had. In 1996, another attorney, representing a different patient of Gosnell’s, informed Staloski’s predecessor as director of the Home Health Division that his client had suffered a perforated uterus, requiring a radical hysterectomy, as a result of Gosnell’s negligence. The Home Health director discussed this patient with DOH Senior Counsel Kenneth Brody, and the complaint report was documented in records turned over to the Grand Jury. It was surely available to Staloski when she inaccurately told the attorney in January 2002 that DOH had received no complaints regarding Gosnell’s clinic.

Not documented in the records turned over to the Grand Jury was a second complaint registered between 1996 and 1997. This one was hand-delivered to the secretary of health’s administrative assistant by Dr. Donald Schwarz, now Philadelphia’s health commissioner. Dr. Schwarz, a pediatrician, is the former head of adolescent services at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and was the directing physician of a private practice in West Philadelphia. For 17 years, he treated teenage girls from the West Philadelphia community. Occasionally, he referred patients who wanted to terminate their pregnancies to abortion providers.

Gosnell’s clinic was originally included as a provider in the referral information that Dr. Schwarz gave to his patients. He and his physician partners noticed, however, that patients who had abortions at Woman’s Medical Society were returning to their private practice, soon after, infected with trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted parasite, that they did not have before the abortions.

When this happened repeatedly, Dr. Schwarz sent a social worker to talk to people at Gosnell’s facility. Based on the social worker’s visit to Women’s Medical Society, Dr. Schwarz stopped referring patients to the clinic. He also hand-delivered a formal letter of complaint to the office of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. Dr. Schwarz told the Grand Jury that he does not know what happened to his complaint. He never heard back from DOH. And the department did not include it in response to the Grand Jury’s subpoena requesting all complaints relating to Gosnell’s’ clinic. We know that no inspection resulted.

We are very troubled that state health officials ignored this respected physician’s report that girls were becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases at Gosnell’s clinic when they had abortions there. If Dr. Schwarz’s complaint did not trigger an inspection, we are convinced that none would. We also do not understand how a report of this magnitude was not at least added to Gosnell’s file at the state department of health. It suggests to us that there may have been many more complaints that were never turned over to the Grand Jury.

We heard testimony from DOH officials who should have been aware of Dr. Schwarz’s complaint – Kenneth Brody and Janice Staloski, at the least. Yet they made no mention of it to the Grand Jury. Did they remember the complaint and choose to exclude it from their testimony? Is ignoring complaints of this seriousness so routine at DOH that they honestly do not remember it? Or did the secretary of health never even forward it on for action? Of these possible explanations, we are not sure which is the most troubling.

In addition to these two complaints filed in 1996 and 1997, Staloski herself received two inquiries from attorneys’ offices about Gosnell’s clinic in the first two months of 2002. One was from the Shaw family’s attorney. The other was from a paralegal for yet a third attorney who phoned her on February 6, 2002, asking for information concerning the clinic. Surely these two inquiries in 2002 should have alerted Staloski that there were complaints from at least two people about the clinic, complaints serious enough to warrant civil attorneys’ involvement. Yet she ordered no investigation of the clinic, even though it had not been site-reviewed in nine years.

In 2007, Dr. Frederick Hellman, the Medical Examiner for Delaware County, reported to DOH the stillbirth of a 30-week-old baby girl. A medical examiner investigator, Irene LaFlore, made the phone calls. She spoke to several DOH employees, including Brody, the senior counsel. The investigator reported to the DOH officials that the medical examiner had conducted an autopsy on the stillborn baby delivered by a 14-year-old girl at Crozier-Chester Medical Center. She explained that the baby’s delivery had been induced in the course of an abortion performed by Gosnell, and that the medical examiner was concerned because performing an abortion at 30 weeks was a clear violation of the Abortion Control Act.

According to the investigator’s notes, Brody suggested that the medical examiner inform the District Attorney’s Office in Delaware County – for possible referral to Philadelphia, where the procedure occurred – because it was a crime to perform an abortion beyond 24 weeks. Brody said that neither DOH nor the state medical board had any authority over the matter. The senior counsel did ask the investigator to keep him informed. The investigator’s notes suggest Brody told her that, once the district attorney acted, then the medical board could get involved.

Brody was correct to refer Dr. Hellman to the district attorney to prosecute the abortion of the 30-week pregnancy as a crime. That, however, did not absolve DOH of its responsibility. The information provided by Dr. Hellman’s investigator should have been received as a complaint to DOH. The department should have initiated an investigation. DOH could have revoked the clinic’s license without waiting for a criminal prosecution that might never (and did not) happen. Yet no one from the department went to investigate Gosnell’s clinic.

Categories: Gosnell