Local News Archive
Print Issue: October 29, 1998
State Reports 'Shocking Disregard' For Patients At Midtown
BY GRETCHEN KEISER
ATLANTA--Midtown Hospital, Georgias largest abortion provider, was shut down in late May after the state documented conditions there which shocked inspectors and revealed women patients were being treated in unsanitary, overcrowded, poorly staffed and dangerous conditions.
Affidavits filed by the state to obtain a court order to close the abortion facility at 144 Ponce de Leon Ave. include reports from two 1998 patients and several former employees, in addition to lengthy, detailed reports by the Department of Human Resources (DHR).
An affidavit from a 31-year-old College Park woman said when she went for an abortion Feb. 21, 1998 conditions were so crowded women were lying on the floor and on chairs after labor had been induced, screaming in pain without any monitoring by staff. One woman gave birth in a bathroom that day, according to the affidavit.
The College Park woman, who was there from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., said blood and urine were everywhere and staff stepped over patients lying on the floor.
Some of the girls appeared so traumatized they got up and left, according to the affidavit. As the staff began calling names, patients that were still there would say that theyve gone. One nurse responded, They didnt get their money back.
It was the worst experience of my life and it was so bad it was beyond belief, the patient affidavit said. I have terrible dreams about the whole experience.
The other affidavit was from an Atlanta woman who went to Midtown for an abortion April 16, 1998 and had to be admitted to Grady Hospital several days later on an emergency basis after suffering severe pain, bleeding and vomiting. At Grady she was diagnosed as having had an incomplete abortion, according to the affidavit, and underwent surgery.
An affidavit from a former employee who worked at Midtown Hospital from November 1996 to February 1998 said, I routinely saw patients expel fetuses on the floor and in the commode in the preoperative room. Patients expelled fetuses in front of other patients that were awaiting procedures. Patients expelled fetuses in commodes that were used by other patients. Patients would leave the preoperative room looking for nurses and come into the discharge area where I would assist them into one of the two bathrooms in that area. I regularly observed patients expel fetuses in the commode in the discharge area. I saw a fetus that had a foot as long as my hand. I saw another fetus with a full head of hair. Oftentimes, I was the only staff member in that area to assist the patients. I do not have medical training.
In seeking a court order to close Midtown, the state said, Midtown Hospital...continues to display a complete disregard for, or the inability to care for, the health and safety of its patients. Midtown Hospitals continuing failure to meet minimum health and safety standards...places the health and safety of its patients in jeopardy on a daily basis.
In response to the request, Fulton County Superior Court Senior Judge William Alexander order the facility closed May 22. The building is now for sale and a DHR spokesman said Oct. 23 that the agency considers the case closed.
At the time of the closing, Midtown was administered by Ignatius DeBlasi and Herbert Wiskind was the chief executive officer. Dr. Edward Portman was reported to be the physician performing abortions at Midtown Hospital in May 1998.
Midtown Hospital performed 7,465 abortions in 1996, the most recent annual report available. In addition to performing more abortions than any other Georgia facility, Midtown was the major provider of second trimester abortions. Of the abortions Midtown performed in 1996, 1,806 were second trimester abortions.
Twenty-three percent of all abortions in Georgia in 1996 were performed at Midtown Hospital.
In the early 1980s Midtown Hospital became the focus of large pro-life demonstrations after the Georgia Bulletin reported state certificates revealed 14 infants survived abortions at Midtown and lived briefly, the longest for 13 hours. At issue was the gestational age of the fetus, which was supposed to be verified before a late term abortion was performed.
After the live births became public, Midtown was required by the state to develop policies and procedures to care for infants surviving second trimester abortions.
However, in 1984 the Georgia Bulletin reported that a new experimental procedure had been used at Midtown Hospital 600 times in late term abortions. The procedure injected the drug digoxin directly into the heart of the baby in utero, killing the child before labor was induced and thereby avoiding live births.
Court documents filed in May 1998 by DHR reveal that inspectors began to cite Midtown Hospital for rule violations following its annual inspection in February 1996 and again in May 1997.
A follow-up inspection in October 1997 led DHR to impose a civil penalty of $25,000 on the facility for failing to maintain compliance with DHR rules and regulations for hospitals.
On-site visits Jan. 23, Feb. 13 and Feb. 19, 1998 led to a 60-page statement of deficiencies, according to court documents, and revealed a startling array of severe rule violations which have a direct adverse impact on patient care.
On March 9 Midtown was notified of the states intent to revoke its hospital permit.
On March 14 inspectors visited again in response to complaints with an inspection warrant and accompanied by Fulton County sheriffs deputies, because they had been denied access to some hospital areas on Feb. 13. They found 106 patients were expected for surgical procedures March 14.
Interviews with patients accentuated the deplorable conditions at Midtown Hospital, the court documents said. All nine patients interviewed stated that they did not see a physician prior to being on the operating room table...All nine patients interviewed reported that they heard other patients screaming...Seven of nine patients reported that they witnessed spontaneous expulsion of fetuses in various areas within Midtown Hospital, including the commode, the floor, the corner of a room, and a hallway.
The rule violations cited as a result of this visit show a shocking disregard for the welfare of Midtown Hospitals patients, the court papers said.
Other deficiencies cited by the state included:
DHR licenses and regulates health care facilities in Georgia, issuing permits of operation for health care facilities. Hospitals are defined as health care facilities where patients may be seen for a period of 24 hours or longer.
On April 21 Midtown Hospital, through its attorneys, sent DHR a lengthy plan to return operations to compliance with DHR rules and regulations.
However, on May 5 another follow-up inspection by the state revealed that the problems persisted, according to the state complaint.
Midtown Hospitals continued operation in violation of DHRs rules and regulations is endangering its patients. Midtown Hospital has shown and continues to show complete disregard for the health and safety of its patients. It lacks any system or program for the prevention of the spread of infection among patients, its sterilization techniques are substandard, it fails to track or address unexpected patient outcomes, it is unable to produce any evidence of the qualifications of many of its employees, it lacks the proper controls on the accessibility and administration of medications, and its physical plant itself is in disrepair, according to documents filed by the state with the court.
Court documents said staff at Midtown Hospital said there had been no patient incidents or transfers to other hospitals in the 12 months preceding January and February 1998 inspections, but documentation from other area hospitals contradicted this claim.
An affidavit filed by an employee who worked there for 15 months said the staff member was instructed to tell patients who asked questions that the procedure would not involve inducement of labor or the experience of delivery.
In addition to the inspections and follow-up being done by DHR, people taking part in sidewalk counseling and pro-life demonstrations outside Midtown provided information to the state which they learned from contacts made at the abortion facility.
Michelle Wolven, one of a small group who would arrive at Midtown at 5:30 a.m. several days a week to try and dissuade women from entering, said they provided information to the state when they learned of conditions from patients or workers and they also requested copies of state inspection reports to monitor conditions. They would also point out disrepair at the building to women entering.
We would talk about how bad it was inside. Some would leave, said Wolven, a member of St. Josephs Church in Marietta. The group would also help women who needed a place to stay or other assistance. They sometimes observed women being pressured by boyfriends to enter, she said, and called the police.
They were surprised, however, when the court-ordered closing was made public May 22.
We feel that babies are definitely not going to be killed. We were very, very happy, Wolven said.
In a public statement, Mary Boyert, executive director of Georgia Right to Life, said, We know that abortions are not rare. We are hearing from the state of Georgia that, in at least one facility, they are not safe. It is time for the American public to rise up and demand that they no longer be legal.
Peggy Sinanian, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, expressed hope that the state report would strip away some of the falsehoods in which the abortion industry clothes itself.
I am very grateful that the abortion industry has been exposed for all the world to see, said Sinanian. Ordinary folks like you and me can turn these things around. We cant just cluck our tongues and walk away and hope that someone else will do something. We need new people to join pro-life committees and be active.
The former Midtown Hospital stands
empty after being shut down by the State of Georgia.