N.Y. fines 2 hospitals over misdiagnosis Emergency rooms failed late playwright Larson

December 13, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Cataloging a succession of omissions and errors, New York state health officials leveled fines and unusually harsh criticism yesterday at two New York City hospitals for deficiencies in their emergency-room treatment of the playwright Jonathan Larson in the days before his death earlier this year.

Twice during the last week of January, Larson, 35, who created the hit musical "Rent," was rushed to emergency rooms complaining of severe chest pain. Twice, doctors failed to diagnose the potentially treatable condition that killed him, a four-month investigation by the State Health Department has found.

At Cabrini Medical Center, doctors said he had food poisoning. At St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center, doctors said he had a virus. Both sent him home.

Larson, the composer and sometime waiter who gained posthumous fame for "Rent," was found dead on his kitchen floor Jan. 25, days before his rock opera opened to glowing reviews. An autopsy found that he had died of a more than foot-long tear inside his aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to other organs.

Dr. Barbara DeBuono, the state health commissioner, acknowledged that this condition, called a dissecting aortic aneurysm, would have been difficult to diagnose. But she faulted the doctors for not being thorough or aggressive enough in their efforts to find a reason for his chest pain.

Health Department officials said they were so concerned about the poor quality of the care in the two emergency departments that they took the highly unusual step of imposing fines, $10,000 for Cabrini and $6,000 for St. Vincent's. The Department JTC conducts 1,650 investigations a year and cites deficiencies in about 450 cases, but issues fines in less than 10.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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