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Valley woman wants
daughter’s doctors publicy
named for misdiagnoses
In 2002, her daughter Robyn Libitsky was granted an arbitration award of nearly $1 million after suing Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and several of its doctors because they misdiagnosed her medical condition.
Kaiser physicians treated Libitsky for five months in 1999 for back and muscle pain. It turned out she had a rare cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma. She died earlier this year but not before winning the arbitration award.
Ever since, Levy has been on a crusade to have the Medical Board of California note on its website every Kaiser doctor named in the arbitration award. They did so for only one of the doctors named in the document.
The Simi Valley resident has written numerous letters to the board and Kaiser, has appeared on TV and called a state senator for help. So far, she’s been unsuccessful in her attempts.
By law, the medical board is to make public the names and licenses of doctors against whom an arbitration award is granted. The same goes for the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), which regulates health plan companies such as Kaiser.
The medical board nonetheless is aware of the other Kaiser doctors who treated Libitsky. Cohen, however, refused to disclose how the board knows of them or to give their names.
After an investigation into Libitsky’s case, the medical board closed the case and didn’t discipline any of the doctors because of “insufficient evidence of wrongdoing,” Cohen said
The medical board uses a higher standard, she said, than what’s used in civil matters when determining whether a doctor acted improperly and should be disciplined. By law the board must weigh whether the evidence is “clear and convincing to a reasonable certainty.” Civil matters only need a “preponderance” of the evidence, meaning a 51 percent certainty. The higher standard carries an 80 to 90 percent certainty, Cohen said. Levy remains undeterred in her mission to see that the public knows about all of the doctors who misdiagnosed her daughter. She’s contacted about a dozen others who say Kaiser physicians misdiagnosed their loved ones too. Two of those contacted, Sheree Levy (no relation to Hillarie) and Tracie Breiter, both of Simi Valley, appeared with Levy on KEYT-TV last month to tell their stories.
Breiter’s dad died within four months of being diagnosed with cancer. She said up until then, Kaiser doctors attributed his back pain to aging, and when a lump on his neck appeared, they treated him with antibiotics. She hasn’t sought legal action. A doctor at a Kaiser emergency room misdiagnosed Sheree Levy’s 86-year-old mother, Bernice Barthoff, after she fell. X-rays were taken, and Barthoff was told to go home and take a pain reliever for her badly bruised hip. It was discovered later that she had a fractured hip, but no one from the hospital called to tell her.
For three days, Barthoff stayed in a wheelchair because it was too painful to move to the bed. When Sheree called her mother’s doctor, he found the X-rays and sent an ambulance to pick her up and bring her to the hospital. She underwent surgery the following day but died on the operating table.
Sheree has since talked to an attorney but was told she didn’t have a case. Because Barthoff had health issues Levy didn’t know about, her death couldn’t directly be attributed to the misdiagnosis, Sheree was told. “But she did suffer needlessly,” she said.
There’s also the case of Breanna Pflaumer of Moorpark. Her parents were told by Kaiser doctors in 2003 that their 13-year-old daughter was underweight, undersized and having headaches and backaches because of an eating disorder. After months of getting nowhere with treatment and with Breanna then experiencing double vision, the Pflaumers last December demanded an MRI be taken. The results showed a large brain tumor. Breanna has since had surgery and chemotherapy. Her parents say she’s doing OK, although she’s too susceptible to infection to go to school. Their experience with Kaiser has shaken their faith.
“You just can’t trust the system anymore,” Terrie Pflaumer said.
Hillarie Levy has asked state Sen. George Runner (R-Antelope Valley) for help.
“I hope to get legislation for better oversight of the medical board and the Department of Managed Health Care,” Levy said. “We’re going to get something done for all California taxpayers . . . because if there isn’t someone needs to explain to California people why.”
Becky Warren, a spokeswoman for Runner, said they’re looking into what can be done for Levy legislatively.
“We don’t know if anything can be done,” she said, “but it is being researched.”
Robyn Libitsky was just 29 when she died on Feb. 15, 2005. An alumna of Royal High School and a graduate of the in UC Santa Barbara, Libitsky had a bright future, friends say.
She had been accepted to law school and was working in the office of a Los Angeles County supervisor. She eventually wanted to work in the district attorney’s office.
But the year before she was to enter law school, the pain in her back was severe enough to send her to Kaiser’s urgent care. According to legal documents, the doctor diagnosed her with back strain and prescribed pain medication.
Two days later she returned. The pain was so severe, she told the doctor, she couldn’t sleep at night. More pain medication was prescribed.
Legal documents show that over the next several months Libitsky went to Kaiser doctors 12 more times with complaints of back pain. Each time she was treated for muscle pain or a viral infection. She even made several trips to physical therapy.
But Ewing’s sarcoma was the cause of Libitsky’s pain. According to the American Cancer Society’s website, each year only about 150 people are diagnosed with the rare form of cancer.
Her diagnosis came on Jan. 7, 2000, about five months after her first trip to urgent care. The documents say that by the time the diagnosis was made, the tumor had grown in size and abutted Libitsky’s spinal canal. She underwent surgery to remove the mass and three ribs. But not all of the cancer was removed; a second surgery took out part of her diaphragm, more ribs and part of her spinal canal lining.
Libitsky sued Kaiser for the error its doctors made in diagnosing her. Arbitrators found Kaiser and the six doctors who diagnosed Libitsky negligent in May 2002.