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Baby at the center of dispute with Kaiser is transferred elsewhere

September 27, 2007|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

A severely premature San Diego baby at the center of an unusual legal dispute between his parents and Kaiser Permanente was moved Wednesday to the neonatal intensive care unit at Rady Children's Hospital San Diego.

Andrew Balaka-Long's parents went to court last week trying to force Kaiser's San Diego hospital to transfer their son to a better-equipped facility in hopes of saving his life.

Andrew was born 16 weeks premature Aug. 2 and weighed 660 grams, or about 1 1/2 pounds. He was the only one of triplets to survive.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright initially ruled that the baby had to be moved within 24 hours but retracted the order hours later after Kaiser said it could not find a bed at another hospital.

Since the court hearing, Kaiser officials said, a bed opened up at Rady Children's and Andrew was taken off a high-frequency ventilator that would have made his transfer more difficult.

"I'm breathing a little bit better," said Andrew's father, Dr. James Long, a gynecologist who does not work for Kaiser. "We're hoping he's going to stabilize more and more as we go."

Long maintains that Kaiser made numerous mistakes in Andrew's care -- an allegation Kaiser vehemently denies. Long, 50, and his wife, Svetlana Balaka, 37, have filed a lawsuit against the hospital alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death in the cases of the other two children.

Kaiser officials say they were pleased that the transfer went well.

"This is a tragic situation for the family certainly and has been a difficult situation for the folks that are involved here at Kaiser Permanente San Diego," said Tony Minks, chief operating officer of Kaiser's San Diego medical center. "People feel like they've done the best that they could possibly do to provide great care for that child, and I think we're convinced that we did that."

Until recent days, the transfer was a matter of dispute.

Weeks ago, Long asked Kaiser to move Andrew to a different hospital that could provide a higher level of care. But the health plan refused, saying that a transfer was not medically necessary.

(Kaiser, which operates both a health plan and a hospital system, almost always requires members to receive care in its own facilities.)

Long appealed the denial to the state Department of Managed Health Care.

Under state law, such appeals are sent to independent medical reviewers, whose decisions are binding on all parties.

On Sept. 18, the physician who reviewed Andrew's case ordered Kaiser to transfer the child to an outside hospital, as Long had requested.

Long then sought an emergency court order Friday because he felt that the health plan should have moved his son more quickly.

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