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Ex-King/Drew Doctor Gets Probation

The state Medical Board disciplines a pathologist found to have repeatedly misdiagnosed patients.

December 20, 2005|Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber | Times Staff Writers

A former pathologist at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center was placed on five years' probation by the Medical Board of California after an administrative law judge found that he had repeatedly misdiagnosed patients at the troubled public hospital.

The Medical Board also ordered Dr. Dennis G. Hooper to attend a clinical retraining course at UC San Diego and have all of his pathology diagnoses reviewed by a "licensed and competent" pathologist while in the program. Hooper must repay the state $22,845 to cover its investigative and legal costs. The decision takes effect Jan. 11.

His alleged misdiagnoses -- and why the hospital took no action against him -- were detailed by The Times last December as part of a series about King/Drew.

The Medical Board had accused Hooper of negligence in six cases. In some, the board said, he failed to detect cancer in patients who had it. In others, he diagnosed the disease in patients who did not have it.

The cases include that of Johnnie Mae Williams, who went to King/Drew in March 2001 for a seemingly minor gynecological exam. Hooper determined that she had cancer of the uterine lining, and surgeons removed all of her reproductive organs, according to her medical records.

Hooper was wrong, the records show. His findings were based on a slide from another patient, who had brain cancer, records show. In his report, he raised the possibility that the slide had been mislabeled, but the Medical Board accused him of not investigating further.

Pathologists review tissue, blood and urine samples to search for signs of abnormalities.

The Medical Board adopted the findings of Administrative Law Judge Samuel D. Reyes, who presided over a four-day hearing in August. He found that Hooper failed to meet the standard of care in four of the six cases cited in the state's allegation. During the hearing, experts for the state and Hooper's defense separately testified that his work fell below the acceptable standard of care in at least three cases.

Hooper's expert said he should be required to seek additional training and prove that he is competent in surgical pathology. Deputy Atty. Gen. Ismael Castro asked the court to revoke Hooper's license to practice medicine in the state.

Hooper's lawyer, J. Grant Kennedy, said he believes his client has good prospects if he chooses to appeal. "Dr. Hooper faced a judge hired by his opponent (the state) and received probation," Kennedy said in a statement. "Dr. Hooper also faced overwhelming political and public pressure, reflected by the press coverage, which made this a special challenge."

Hooper's colleagues had complained about his performance to King/Drew's medical leaders in August 2000, but their concerns were ignored, a county audit later found. Although county auditors eventually recommended that King/Drew discipline Hooper, the hospital did not do so, officials acknowledge.

Kennedy has acknowledged that his client made some mistakes. But the attorney said the errors were small in number and fell within the acceptable range for pathologists. He also blamed the culture at King/Drew, which had no formal system of reviewing its pathologists' work and helping them catch errors.

Hooper worked at King/Drew from 2000 to 2002 and subsequently moved to Texas. He resigned his position at Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio last December, one week after The Times report was published.

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