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Doctor Accused of Turning Away Ill, Poor Patient

March 29, 1990|PHILIPP GOLLNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former emergency room surgeon at Panorama Community Hospital is facing charges that he turned away a critically ill patient because the patient could not afford treatment, The Times has learned. It is the second time in recent months that medical personnel at the hospital have been accused of such illegal patient "dumping."

Felix Talag, who was 67 at the time, went to the Panorama City hospital on April 11, 1987, because he had been vomiting blood for more than seven hours and felt dizzy, an accusation filed by the Medical Board of California states. Dr. Stephen C. Acosta briefly examined Talag at the hospital and then told his relatives to drive him in their own car to Olive View Medical Center, a Los Angeles County facility 10 miles away that treats indigent patients for reduced fees.

There, doctors found that Talag had no palpable pulse or blood pressure, the complaint says. Doctors managed to resuscitate him and he was placed in Olive View's intensive care unit, the accusation states. Talag has since recovered, said Gloria Barrios, the deputy state attorney general who is handling the case on behalf of the Medical Board.

The complaint, which was obtained by The Times, states that Acosta allowed Talag to be transferred because he "was concerned" that the patient "could not pay for the required hospitalization."

Acosta, of Redondo Beach, could lose his medical license if the charges are upheld at a hearing before a Medical Board panel in Los Angeles next Wednesday. He is accused of negligence, incompetence and general unprofessional conduct.

Acosta, as well as the hospital, could each be fined $50,000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found out about the Acosta incident while conducting its own investigation into the hospital's procedures, said Elliott Kramer, the department's regional inspector general for investigations. The state Medical Board heard about the incident from an Olive View doctor who complained.

Acosta, who no longer works at Panorama hospital, is not listed as a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., and it could not be determined whether he is still practicing. The state medical board issued him a physician's and surgeon's certificate in October, 1977.

Panorama hospital spokeswoman Candyce Columbus declined to comment on the charges. Acosta could not be reached for comment. His attorneys, David Kalifon and John Harwell, said they could not comment on the charges until next week's hearing.

After diagnosing the symptoms as an "acute episode of gastrointestinal bleeding," Acosta allegedly failed to stabilize Talag and sent him to Olive View, in Sylmar.

"Panorama Community Hospital had all the requisite staff and facilities necessary to determine the extent and acuity" of Felix Talag's bleeding and to stabilize his condition, according to the complaint, which was issued last May. "This was not done," it says.

The incident came to light less than six months after a registered nurse at Panorama Community Hospital was charged with denying care to a seriously ill girl, whom she allegedly sent to Olive View after the girl's parents failed to prove that they had insurance.

Kramer would not say if the department's investigation has uncovered other so-called "dumping" incidents at the hospital.

Deborah Carol Nachman, 37, of Sherman Oaks is scheduled to stand trial April 30 on a misdemeanor charge of failing to treat Veronica Ayala, now 2, when the girl was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 8, 1988.

Ayala lost one foot and the toes of the other to gangrene, which resulted from a contagious blood infection, said Deputy City Atty. Ellen Pais.

Pais said that although it could not be proven that the girl lost her foot because she was not treated at Panorama, the girl should have received immediate care because her condition was critical.

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