The New York State Department of Health is examining Bellevue Hospital's use of unlicensed technicians to assist doctors in weight loss surgeries.
Bellevue, a large public hospital in Manhattan, treats thousands of low-income patients with bariatric surgery each year, the New York Times reported this month. Doctors are paid in part based on the volume of surgeries.
In their effort to speed up, bariatric surgeons sometimes asked equipment technicians to scrub up and participate in surgeries because surgeons had few assistants, two Bellevue doctors told The Times. Those technicians, who worked for a third-party provider called Surgical Solutions, were not licensed to treat patients.
The state health agency has launched an investigation into the allegations, which could lead to a formal investigation.
“The department is investigating the matter,” an agency spokeswoman, Danielle De Souza, said Wednesday.
Bellevue spokesman Christopher Miller said the investigation was preliminary and may not lead to an actual investigation. “We are reviewing his allegations and will take appropriate action if the facts warrant it,” he added.
Surgical Solutions did not respond to requests for comment.
The use of unlicensed technicians was one of many red flags Bellevue employees described to the Times about the bariatric program. Two surgeons raced to see how many operations they could perform in one day. And anesthesiologists reduced doses of painkillers so that patients woke up earlier and the operating rooms came out faster.
Bellevue even recruited patients from the Rikers Island prison complex in New York City who had virtually no chance of maintaining the required diets after surgery. Two said they became malnourished as a result.
After the Times article was published, executives at Health and Hospitals Corporation, the New York City agency that oversees Bellevue, emailed employees and told them that “the article left out important context.” They praised the bariatric surgery department for offering “high-quality, affordable comprehensive care and surgical services” to low-income New Yorkers.
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