Glenwood Springs doctor linked to malpractice bill
December 14, 2007
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A Front Range woman who got a medical transparency bill passed in the name of her deceased son says the neurosurgeon who incited her campaign efforts is practicing in Glenwood Springs.Patty Skolnik founded Colorado Citizens for Accountability after her son Michael Skolnik died. He suffered in a vegetative state until he died of multiple organ failure in June 2004. Skolnik believes the death was caused by an unnecessary brain surgery.”In my opinion, this man performed unnecessary surgery on my child and killed him,” Skolnik said.She later found out the doctor had a malpractice claim against him.Skolnik’s efforts for malpractice disclosure led to the creation of House Bill 1331, the Michael Skolnik Medical Transparency Act. It requires the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners to begin publishing information about malpractice claims against doctors in Colorado to protect patients.The bill and her cause has also prompted Skolnik to start a website: coloradocitizensforaccountability.org.A May 25 Rocky Mountain News article states that after Michael Skolnik died, “Skolnik’s parents later discovered that the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Wayne Miller, had a malpractice claim against him in Georgia and had done the procedure performed on her son only one other time.””He told us he had done many of these operations,” Skolnik said. “It turns out he had done one other.”Skolnik said Miller paid confidential sums to settle her family’s malpractice claims against him and that she knows he’s settled two other malpractice lawsuits as well. Miller confirmed he settled two malpractice claims.But Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and former colleagues described Miller as an excellent neurosurgeon who’s been unfairly targeted. They pointed out that the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners reviewed the case at Skolnik’s request, found no wrongdoing and issued no sanctions. Some said Skolnik shouldn’t be granted instant credibility just because her son’s name is on the legislation.Valley View’s chief clinical officer, Deb Wiepking, said Miller came on staff in June after an intensive hiring process.”He’s an excellent surgeon. He’s been open and honest with the hospital,” she said. “The medical staff as well as the hospital is very happy with what he’s doing for us and this community.”Valley View CEO Gary Brewer said the hospital knew about the settlements, but hired Miller because he’s exemplary and probably one of the best-trained neurosurgeons in the state. Brewer said he doesn’t care that Skolnik’s story made the rounds in various news agencies – he cares about what Miller’s former colleagues, employers and clients had to say. Brewer noted that most malpractice claims are settled before trial as business decisions not to gamble with financial ruin.”You won’t find a surgeon out there that will tell you they have not had a bad outcome,” he said.Dr. Lee Krauth said he’s familiar with Skolnik’s case and has known Miller for 10 years. Krauth works for the Grand River Medical Center in Rifle and has privileges at Valley View Hospital. He said, “(Miller) is frustrated because (Skolnik) has a personal vendetta to try to destroy his career. … As far as Dr. Miller doing anything wrong, his case was reviewed by three different boards and the state medical board. He was never found to have done anything wrong as far as his medical care.”He pointed out that there’s a big difference between a bad outcome from surgery and a doctor making a mistake. He said doctors often settle malpractice claims merely to avoid the risk of financial ruin and to move on.”I don’t think he made a mistake, he just had a bad outcome,” Krauth said. “I think that Glenwood is lucky to have someone of David’s caliber.”Krauth said that on average neurosurgeons in Colorado get sued for malpractice every three years.Dr. James Denton, a former coworker of Miller’s from the Medical Center of Aurora, said he worked with Miller closely on a day-to-day basis for five years.”I think he is the finest neurosurgeon I have ever worked with,” he said. “He is one of the most skilled and compassionate and intelligent doctors I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.”Dr. Judith Bodner, another former colleague from the Aurora center, said, “He is an incredible neurosurgeon, probably one of the best that I’ve seen or ever worked with.”Miller said brain surgeries carry a high risk of complications, and that people die from complications all the time in the absence of mistakes.”I did my best to help her son,” he said. “If she doesn’t think I wake up every day thinking about Michael Skolnik, she’s mistaken.””Patty isn’t the most objective person in this,” he added. “Nor am I, but state medical boards are there for a reason. … Just because they didn’t support her cause doesn’t mean they’re ineffective.”But Skolnik thought the board of medical examiners deciding not to discipline Miller means little.Citing statistics from the Center of Justice and Democracy, she said that two-thirds of doctors in the United States with 10 or more malpractice payments never are disciplined by their board of medical examiners.”Our state board of medical examiners did not do anything to this doctor,” she said. “This bill was passed because of what he did to my son, and they still did nothing.”Skolnik said she contacted the Post Independent as part of her efforts to protect patients.”We want people to partake in their health care, and part of that is knowing who your health care provider is,” Skolnik said.