Joan Rivers: Her Medical Clinic’s Cold Statement

Yorkville Endoscopy—the New York clinic that performed the fatal procedure on Joan Rivers—committed a series of major mistakes while treating her, according to a determination released this week by the New York Department of Health and Human Services. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the violations include the following jaw-dropping lapses:

“Not obtaining the patient’s consent for a procedure, mistakes in administering the anesthesia Propofol, failing to take Rivers’ weight, allowing an unauthorized doctor to perform a procedure at the facility and violating the patient’s privacy by taking a cell phone photograph during surgery.”

In response to the new report, Yorkville Endoscopy released the following statement to The Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets:

“From the outset of the Aug. 28 incident described in the CMS Report, Yorkville has been fully cooperative and collaborative with all regulatory and accreditation agencies. In response to the statement of deficiencies, Yorkville immediately submitted and implemented a plan of correction that addressed all issues raised. The regulatory agencies are currently reviewing the corrective plan of action and have been in regular contact with Yorkville. In addition, the physicians involved in the direct care and treatment referenced in the report no longer practice or provide services at Yorkville. Yorkville will continue its commitment to complying with all standards and accreditation requirements. Yorkville has been and remains open and active and is fully accredited by an independent review organization. The staff and providers are focused on providing the highest quality and most advanced care possible to its patients.”

Joan Rivers via David Shankbone

Their statement doesn’t convey even the barest amount of apology, express remorse, or say anything that makes me believe that they are patient-centric. Instead, it appears to be a self-interested statement intended to say as little as possible, limit legal damages, and convince regulators that they deserve to continue receiving Medicare money.

Yes, I understand that the practice has to be careful with impending litigation on the horizon, so it’s responsible for attorneys to play an important role in writing and vetting this statement (as they surely did). But does this statement really accomplish much? After reading such damning findings, I suspect most people would be outraged—her doctor took a selfie with Ms. Rivers as she was unconscious?!? Yorkville’s cold, carefully parsed statement doesn’t acknowledge that underlying emotion at all, making me wonder whether future potential patients would feel assured and safe enough to put their lives in Yorkville’s hands. I know I wouldn’t.

Then again, my guess is that Yorkville’s primary audience isn’t patients, but rather the regulators and accreditation agencies who will ultimately decide whether Medicare and other insurance patients can continue to receive coverage at their practice.

Yorkville Endoscopy

Personally, I would have pushed for a more human-sounding statement such as this one:

“Patients place their trust in us, and we have a sacred obligation to uphold it. There was a breach in that trust recently, which we find completely unacceptable and took immediate action to correct. The physicians involved in the direct care and treatment referenced in the report no longer practice or provide services at Yorkville.

Our sole focus is to make sure that every patient who walks through our doors knows they will be treated by expert physicians and cared for by professional healthcare workers. They should also know that the deficiencies that were identified by regulatory and accreditation agencies have been corrected.”

I know that the second line of that statement sounds like an admission of guilt. But other medical facilities, such as Johns Hopkins, have gone even further than I’m suggesting, offering affected patients a straightforward “I’m sorry.”

From my perspective, the facts seem rather self-evident here, meaning they would gain more from admitting the obvious in a quest to regain public trust than from fearing an increased payout by including such a line. (If Yorkville’s insurance carrier is preventing the clinic from making such a statement, it’s a good reminder to negotiate a policy that contains more flexibility for communications during a reputational crisis.)

If they weren’t willing to say more, should Yorkville Endoscopy have even released a statement at all? I’d say yes, if only because it prevented the media from saying the practice had “no comment,” which would have looked even more damning. Plus, I generally believe that some communication is better than no communication. But I sure wish they had left the generic legal “cover your ass” template behind and said something that inspired genuine confidence in their work instead.


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Joan Rivers photo credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons