Hopkins sues over patient's allegations

Hospital says picket crossed the line with accusations in fliers

June 28, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF


Lolly Pop, Lollipop -- not Dr. Lollipop. An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun reported that 77-year-old Morris Danoff, who works with sick children as a clown using the name Dr. Lolly Pop, is the subject of a lawsuit by Johns Hopkins Hospital. But another person in Baltimore works with sick children as a clown under a similar name. The other, Judy Goldblum-Carlton, also known as Dr. Lollipop, is not being sued.

The clown chalks it up to hubris.

But officials at Johns Hopkins Hospital are fed up with Dr. Lolly Pop's fliers and picketing. The hospital is suing Morris Danoff, a 77-year-old Pikesville resident who dresses like a clown to entertain sick children, accusing him of defamation.

Danoff has accused hospital officials of illegally purging medical records from his patient file to cover up what he calls botched cataract surgery in 1996 at Wilmer Eye Institute at John Hopkins Hospital.

Danoff, a retired Baltimore city employee, said he doesn't want to file a malpractice suit but wants doctors to acknowledge they made a mistake. He wants his patient file to reflect that mistake, he said. "All I ever wanted was to clear the air," Danoff said. "But they have seen my fight and have villainized me."

Hopkins officials deny purging any part of Danoff's patient file. "His accusations are so baseless, so absurd, so without merit," said Hopkins spokesman Gary Stephenson. "If you purge records, you lose your accreditation."

The suit, filed last month in Baltimore Circuit Court, asks for at least $100,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Danoff, who volunteers at local hospitals under the name Dr. Lolly Pop, I.Y.Q., "I Y-ike Que," said he believes that a coughing fit on the operating table may have caused a doctor's instrument to hit and injure his right eye muscle. A supervising nurse's notes, which he has a copy of, document Danoff's coughing spasm.

His right eye, the one he says was damaged during surgery, causes him extreme, throbbing pain, he said.

"I'm nice now but in the night, when I put my head on the pillow, I turn into Mr. Hyde," Danoff said. "When I picket it is because I have had a miserable night."

During the day, Danoff has to close his right eye to see well enough to drive his car, he said. "It's like I have double vision," he said.

Hospital officials referred Danoff to a pain clinic and copied his complete patient file for him several times, Stephenson said.

They say they put up with the retiree's picketing at the hospital and its Green Spring satellite office for about two years because they wanted to honor his First Amendment right to free speech, but drew the line when Danoff began using his fliers to accuse doctors of illegal acts.

Danoff said he believes a letter from Dr. W. Jackson Iliff, a former associate of the Wilmer Eye Institute who examined Danoff's right eye after surgery, defends his point.

Iliff wrote in a December 1997 letter to Dr. David Hunter, a colleague who also examined Danoff, "I am pleased that [Danoff] is going to see you to try to work out his muscle balance problem."

The "muscle balance problem" refers to Danoff's double vision, not necessarily an eye muscle injury, Hunter said. Iliff declined to comment.

"He did have an eye muscle injury after the surgery but there are many causes of eye muscle problems besides surgery," Hunter said. "I have never heard of a coughing fit on an operating table causing that sort of problem."

Hunter said tests he ran on Danoff for eye ailments turned out negative. "He just wants to talk about a missing piece of paper or information," Hunter said.

Danoff believes administrators kept Iliff's letter out of his patient file. A person whom Danoff described as a sympathetic Hopkins employee -- whom he declines to name -- made sure he got a copy.

The letter's existence isn't a big secret, said Hopkins attorney Richard Kidwell. It should have been in Danoff's file at the hospital's Green Spring facility, where Danoff received treatment, he said.

Kidwell said Danoff could have misinterpreted the nurse's notes. "He was not coughing during surgery, but it was something that happened after," Kidwell said.

Maryland law requires hospitals to keep patient files up to date. If a patient finds that records were purged, the patient should file a complaint with the attorney general, said Michael Donio, a spokesman for the People's Medical Society, a patient advocacy group in Allentown, Pa.

Danoff has not filed a complaint.

Patients who have problems with their files should seek advice from a patient representative immediately, Donio said.

Danoff contacted a patient representative at Hopkins to help with his early requests, he said. The Board of Physician Quality Assurance helped him to access his patient file. It wasn't enough, Danoff said.

Hopkins officials say they have no intention of backing down.

"This is not about being a bully," Stephenson said. "How can you put a price tag on a reputation? It is a priceless thing. We felt that this was our only option."

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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