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Hospital won't be fined for failing to perform surgery

North Shore University Hospital will not be fined for 14 violations of state regulations involving two neurosurgeons who failed to perform brain surgery on an already sedated patient last year, the state Department of Health said Monday.

The Manhasset hospital could have been fined up to $28,000 for an April 10 surgery that never happened when the scheduled surgeon, Dr. Paolo Bolognese, failed to show up, and the hospital's chief of neurosurgery, Dr. Thomas Milhorat, refused to step in, a state probe found.

The patient, Jennifer Ronca, then 32, of Tunkhannock, Pa., suffered from Chiari malformation, a relatively rare condition in which part of the brain has moved into the spinal canal.

She was placed under anesthesia and was waiting for the surgery to begin as hospital staff tried to locate Bolognese and then convince Milhorat to do it, a state probe found.

A separate procedure earlier in the day was performed successfully.

No state fine was levied because Ronca "was not harmed by the medical staff that day," said Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton.

"Inconvenienced, certainly, but nothing rising to the level of harm to her health," Hutton said.

North Shore officials called the incident "isolated" in their plan to correct 14 deficiencies listed by the state, an Oct. 1, 2009 document released yesterday by the state health department.

Ronca's attorney, Mark Bodner of Manhattan, said Ronca did suffer injuries as a result of the surgery mishap. He declined to discuss them, saying he wanted to talk first to state health authorities. Ronca is suing the hospital and doctors for "carelessness and negligence."

"No one at the Department of Health has ever contacted me about injuries to Jennifer Ronca, even though I am representing her," Bodner said last night, adding that he had not seen the hospital's plan of correction.

In September, the Department of Health issued a 23-page report ripping the hospital for failing to have adequate policies for an absent surgeon.

In its plan of correction, North Shore officials took a defiant tone and disputed seven of the 14 alleged violations. The hospital called the surgery mishap "the result of an unfortunate confluence of a few errors, not a 'systemic' failure resulting from the absence of bylaws or policies."

Bolognese, who was suspended for two weeks, was absent because he rescheduled a vacation for the day of the surgery and told a colleague only by e-mail. The colleague didn't receive it in time.

Milhorat retired shortly after the surgery. The report did not say why he "refused" to do the surgery when Bolognese could not be found.

The hospital's response called the refusal "an uncharacteristic error in judgment."

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