R.I. Hospital Reports Third Incidence of Wrong-Site Brain Surgery

August 6, 2007

A neurosurgeon at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence has been disciplined for operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain, the third time such an error has occurred at the hospital in the last six years.

The state Health Department is requiring the hospital to hire an independent consultant to review its neurosurgery practices and to have a second physician double-check surgery plans.

The surgeon involved in the most recent wrong-site surgery, J. Frederick Harrington, has agreed to stop doing surgeries temporarily and has been ordered to undergo an evaluation.

The surgery was performed on an 86-year-old man who was suffering bleeding between his brain and his skull. Health department documents say that Harrington and others failed to accurately assess the correct location for the surgery, and that the operation was done on the wrong side of the patient’s brain.

Harrington then recognized the error, operated immediately on the patient’s correct side and notified the patient’s family, the documents say. The patient survived, but an e-mail to employees said he had not yet regained consciousness, The Providence Journal reported.

Harrington’s lawyer, Robert Goldberg, declined to comment, the Journal said.

Two similar wrong-site brain surgeries occurred at Rhode Island Hospital in January 2007 and December 2001. Harrington was not involved in either of those operations.

The health department’s medical licensure and discipline board is investigating whether any other hospital staff should face disciplinary action.

“We’re taking this action because of the pattern that has occurred, and we’re taking the action now, before we do the investigation, to make sure that nothing else happens while we’re doing the investigation,” Health Department director David Gifford told The Associated Press.

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