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Doctor Faulted in Boy's Starving to Death

Medicine: Board alleges gross negligence for physician's failure to notice malnutrition and abuse of baby in his care.

September 07, 2002|EVELYN LARRUBIA

A Los Angeles physician was accused of gross negligence Friday by the state Medical Board for the starvation death of an 11-month-old foster child under his care.

The agency said Jack Vossoughazad, who practices under the name Jack Azad, failed to recognize that Danzel Bailey was severely underweight, failed to try to find the source of his poor growth and failed to treat him for malnutrition, which the medical examiner ruled eventually killed him. The board is seeking to revoke his medical license.

"The standard of practice requires that a pediatrician detect signs of malnutrition and failure to thrive in children, especially in infants," Ron Joseph, executive director of the Medical Board of California, said in the formal accusation. "[Azad] was grossly negligent in his care, management and treatment" of Danzel for failing to do so.

State investigators also referred Azad's case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for criminal prosecution. A spokeswoman said no criminal charges have been filed.

Because Joseph did not ask for an interim suspension while the case proceeds administratively, Azad continues to practice at Doyne Medical Clinic on Avalon Boulevard in South-Central Los Angeles. He declined to comment Friday.

An in-depth review of case records and interviews by The Times last year revealed that Danzel slowly starved even though a number of other people could have noticed his deterioration.

Several social workers visited him or the home and noted no problems. Azad saw the child twice and did not treat the boy's poor growth. Relatives and neighbors visited with the boy and some of them are haunted by their failure to intervene.

In the days before his death, his regular social worker finally noticed that Danzel seemed sickly and asked a county nurse for help. The nurse noted that his development was severely delayed but was still trying to get him an appointment with a specialist when the boy was pronounced dead.

Azad, who has denied that he did anything wrong, is the third person to face some kind of sanction in connection with Danzel's death.

His grandmother, Sarah Jones, 54, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for child abuse.

His regular social worker, Sheila Armstrong, was fired by the Department of Children and Family Services. She appealed her case to the civil service board, which has yet to render a decision, according to the department.

Danzel was taken from his mother at the hospital shortly after his birth in April 2000. Child welfare workers alleged that Felicia Bailey was a drug addict and an unfit parent.

After three months in foster care in Inglewood, Danzel was sent to live with his grandmother, who was already raising his toddler brother and the woman's own 15-year-old disabled daughter in a one-bedroom triplex in South-Central.

At the time, the pediatrician used by his foster mother noted Danzel was right on target, weighing 13 1/2 pounds.

But three months later, when Danzel was first taken to Azad for a checkup in November 2000, he was severely underweight at about 10 3/4 pounds, far below the average 6-month-old's weight of 17 pounds, according to county records and the Medical Board.

Joseph, of the Medical Board, said Azad should have examined Danzel to find the cause of his poor growth and immediately hospitalized him. He alleges that Azad never even asked for health records, which would have shown the boy had lost about a quarter of his weight in the prior three months.

In an interview with The Times last year, Azad said he thought Danzel's low weight was a product of poverty, which he said he commonly sees in his clinic.

Danzel was still severely underweight when his grandmother brought him for a follow-up visit on March 20, 2001. He was 11 months old and weighed 14 1/2 pounds, according to records and the Medical Board.

By comparison, 97% of babies weigh 18 or more pounds at that age.

Joseph alleges that a blood test that day showed the boy was anemic, but Azad again failed to treat the anemia or poor growth.

Joseph claims Azad did not even examine the boy during the March visit. Had he, Joseph alleges, Azad would have noticed a number of injuries that were scattered about the child's body--signs of abuse that were found by emergency room physicians and medical examiners after he died a month later. Thus, the Medical Board accuses him of failing to report child abuse.

In a meeting with the Medical Board in June, Azad produced records showing he had examined the boy. Because they contradicted records he had given the Los Angeles Police Department last year, the agency has charged him with falsifying records.

The allegations in Danzel's case were added to others filed against Azad earlier this year.

The Medical Board in March accused Azad of negligence, lack of skill, unprofessional conduct and "excessive prescribing" in two unrelated cases in which he allegedly failed to properly treat adults for back pain and sexual dysfunction.

Joseph is asking the Medical Board's Division of Medical Quality to revoke or suspend Azad's license and reimburse the state for the cost of investigating and prosecuting him.

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