Westport Plastic Surgeon Faces Discipline

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A prominent Westport plastic surgeon is facing a possible reprimand and two years probation from the state for operating a clinic that inspectors found had sloppy record-keeping, rusty and dirty equipment and nurses who failed to document patients’ allergies before liposuction and facelifts.

Inspectors from the state Department of Public Health found in May that Dr. Joel B. Singer’s Center for Ambulatory Surgery in Westport failed to keep records showing that nurses monitored patients for infections or kept track of sponges or needles used during operations. One surgical technician was uncertified, and there were no documents to prove Singer’s nurses knew CPR, records show.

The records also show that inspectors found multiple vials of expired medicine, saw a doctor and a surgical technician fail to wear shoe covers during surgery and spotted dirty floors and rusty tweezers, an IV pole and scissors.

Singer – whose outpatient clinic advertises a minimally invasive “Weekend Facelift” – did not dispute the inspection findings and earlier this year signed a consent order to correct the violations.  The clinic was fined $4,000.  A revised consent order was issued on May 24, suspending the facility’s license.

A separate consent order that would have reprimanded Singer and place him on probation was rejected Tuesday for the second month in a row by the Connecticut Medical Examining Board.

In October, board members asked for more information on Singer, with some members asking that a significant fine be included in the consent order, said William Gerrish, spokesman for the public health department.

Singer asked to speak to the board Tuesday, but chairwoman Anne C. Doremus advised him not to since he was not represented by a lawyer.

Outside the meeting, Singer said he has spent $50,000 to hire staff, pay a consultant and correct all of the violations that were found, as ordered by the state.  He added that he is worried that he could be fined $25,000 by the state.

“I was not breaking any law. I didn’t do anything to harm a patient, and now they want to slap me with a fine that’s out of sight,’’ said Singer.

He accused the board and DPH of “over-regulating” doctors such as him with such minor requirements as having to keep minutes of “governing board” meetings for his practice.

Singer, who said he has performed 6,000 operations in the past 35 years, said he takes responsibility for the lax administration at his clinic. But he also linked it to the recession.

“I didn’t have as many people watching the store as I did before,’’ he said.

In an unrelated case, the board Tuesday unanimously approved two years’ probation for a Bloomfield physician assistant, Neha Batheja, who had been disciplined in New York state.

A year ago, C-HIT had highlighted Batheja’s case in a story that examined why Connecticut was allowing some health-care providers who had faced license suspensions or other discipline in neighboring states to practice freely.

In 2010, Batheja had agreed to a censure, reprimand, fine and three years’ probation in New York state. The New York consent order had stemmed from allegations in 2006 that she wrote prescriptions for painkillers and signed a doctor’s name to the prescriptions for another person without the doctor’s consent.

In the wake of the C-HIT report, the state legislature approved a policy change that allows DPH to take automatic disciplinary action against the licenses of physicians who have been sanctioned in other states.

Tuesday’s action against Batheja stems directly from the New York charges, Doremus said. The Connecticut consent order requires Batheja to be monitored and to take courses in medical ethics.

Doremus said the policy change allows the Connecticut board to take action in cases such as Batheja’s, without having to conduct its own investigations.

Batheja could not be reached for comment.


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