By Dave Andrusko
As the fifth week of the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell begins, there has been a flurry of [much belated] media attention. NRL News Today begins Section VI of the Grand Jury report which asks the question, “How Did This Go On So Long?” As nauseating as the previous sections were in describing the horrible murders of seven unborn babies and the death of a woman, the reader is outraged that “Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service providers.”
The callous killing of babies outside the womb, the routinely performed third trimester abortions, the deaths of at least two patients, and the grievous health risks inflicted on countless other women by Gosnell and his unlicensed staff are not the only shocking things that this Grand Jury investigation uncovered. What surprised the jurors even more is the official neglect that allowed these crimes and conditions to persist for years in a Philadelphia medical facility.
THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NEGLECTED ITS DUTY TO ENSURE THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PATIENTS IN PENNSYLVANIA’S ABORTION CLINICS.
We discovered that Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service providers. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety.
The State Legislature has charged the Department of Health (DOH) with responsibility for writing and enforcing regulations to protect health and safety in abortion clinics as well as in hospitals and other health care facilities. Yet a significant difference exists between how DOH monitors abortion clinics and how it monitors facilities where other medical procedures are performed. Indeed, the department has shown an utter disregard both for the safety of women who seek treatment at abortion clinics and for the health of fetuses after they have become viable. State health officials have also shown a disregard for the laws the department is supposed to enforce. Most appalling of all, the Department of Health’s neglect of abortion patients’ safety and of Pennsylvania laws is clearly not inadvertent: It is by design.
Many organizations that perform safe abortion procedures do their own monitoring and adhere to strict, self-imposed standards of quality. But the excellent safety records and the quality of care that these independently monitored clinics deliver to patients are no thanks to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. And not all women seeking abortion find their way to these high-quality facilities; some end up in a filthy, dangerous clinic such as Gosnell’s. There the patients have to depend on DOH oversight to protect them – as do babies born alive, and helpless but viable fetuses after 24 weeks of gestation. Yet no protection is forthcoming.
State health officials knew that Gosnell and his clinic were offering unacceptable medical care to women and girls, yet DOH failed to take any action to stop the atrocities documented by this Grand Jury. These officials were far more protective of themselves when they testified before the Grand Jury. Even DOH lawyers, including the chief counsel, brought private attorneys with them – presumably at government expense. Gosnell’s clinic – with its untrained staff, its unsanitary conditions and practices, its perilously lax anesthesia protocols, its willingness to perform late-term abortions for exorbitant amounts of cash, and its routine procedure of killing babies after they were delivered by their unconscious mothers – offers a telling example of how horrendous a Pennsylvania facility can be and still operate with DOH “approval.”
The Department of Health conducted sporadic, inadequate inspections for 13 years, and then none at all between 1993 and 2010.
Witnesses from DOH acknowledged before the Grand Jury that it is their department’s responsibility to oversee clinics such as Gosnell’s. Pennsylvania’s Abortion 139 Control Act charges DOH with regulating and overseeing the performance of abortions and the facilities where abortions are performed “so as to protect the health and safety of women having abortions and of premature babies aborted alive.” 18 Pa.C.S. §3207(a). Abortion facilities require the department’s approval to begin operating. The Department of Health first granted approval for the Women’s Medical Center to provide abortions at 3801 Lancaster Avenue on December 20, 1979. The approval followed an on-site review and was good for 12 months. The DOH “site review” at the time identified a certified obstetrician/gynecologist, Joni Magee, as the medical director, with Gosnell listed as a staff physician. The report noted that a registered nurse worked two days a week, four hours a day, and that lab work was sent out to an outside laboratory.
Other topics covered in the 1979 site review included: counseling for women to be sure they had considered alternatives to abortion and were sure about their decision; the physical facility (whether there was adequate space, and whether wheelchairs and stretchers could maneuver through doorways and to the outside); cleaning procedures; emergency preparedness (including the availability of resuscitation equipment and arrangements with an ambulance service and hospital for emergency treatment); and procedures for before, during, and after the operation. It is unclear from the site review who provided most of the information, but much of it appears to come from staff interviews. One significant finding in the 1979 evaluation was that there was adequate access for a stretcher, something that proved not to be the case when EMTs needed to transport Karnamaya Mongar from the facility in November 2009.
Even though the first DOH Certificate of Approval for Gosnell’s clinic expired on December 20, 1980, the next documented site review was not conducted until August 1989. (There is a notation on the 1989 report that a review was conducted in February 1986, but DOH could not provide any documentation of it in response to the Grand Jury’s subpoena.) The 1989 evaluation was conducted by Elizabeth Stein and Susan Mitchell.
Over 20 years later, Mitchell was part of the team that inspected Gosnell’s clinic in February 2010 when law enforcement officials invited DOH to participate in their search. By 1989, Gosnell, who is not board-certified as either an obstetrician or a gynecologist, was the only doctor at the facility. The DOH site reviewers also noted that there were no nurses working at the clinic. Blood work was no longer sent out to an independent lab, but was done, supposedly, by “medical assistants.” And in 7 of the 30 patient files reviewed, there was no lab work recorded.
The evaluators noted several violations of Pennsylvania abortion regulations, including: no board-certified doctor on staff or contracted as a consultant; no nurses overseeing the recovery of patients; no transfer agreement with a hospital for emergency care; and no lab work recorded in several files. Even so, based on mere promises to improve documentation and filing, and to hire nurses, the DOH site reviewers recommended approval of Gosnell’s clinic for another 12 months.
Two and a half years later, in March 1992, when DOH representatives next inspected the clinic, there were still no nurses to monitor patient recovery. Evaluators Janice Staloski and Sara Telencio noted that Gosnell was still the only doctor (a Dr. Martin Weisberg was listed as a consultant); that the facility employed no nurses; and that medical assistants were doing lab work. They did indicate there was adequate access for stretchers and wheelchairs, though it is not clear how they reached this conclusion:
The facility is multi-leveled and has no elevator.
There is nothing to suggest that these evaluators reviewed any patient files.
Gosnell reported performing 62 second-trimester abortions in the previous year, yet the DOH inspectors left blank the section in their report on anesthesia, including who is permitted to give it, what their qualifications are, and the type of anesthesia they are permitted to administer. Also left blank was a section titled “Post-Operative Care,” which addresses the legal requirement that the recovery room be monitored at all times by a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse under the supervision of a physician – the same regulation that the clinic was cited for violating three years earlier. Nevertheless, the evaluators inexplicably concluded on March 12, 1992, that there were “no deficiencies,” and DOH approved Gosnell’s clinic to continue to perform abortions.
The next inspection was conducted on April 8, 1993, by DOH evaluators Susan Mitchell and Georgette Freed-Wolf. This was also the last site review – until February 2010, when an inspection occurred because law enforcement executed search warrants for illegal drug activity. In the 1993 review, Gosnell was the only doctor listed on staff, but “Dr. Weisberg” was still described as a consultant. Four years after Gosnell had promised to hire nurses to oversee the recovery room, there was still none. Lab work was still being performed by unspecified “medical assistants,” whose qualifications the evaluators apparently did not question, since that section of the review was left blank. For the third time, inspectors found the access for stretchers and wheelchairs adequate, even though the facility’s layout had become even more convoluted and the building still did not have an elevator.
The 1993 site review did not include any first-hand observations about the cleanliness of the facility or the condition of the emergency equipment required for resuscitation. Instead of making their own inspection, the evaluators appeared to have relied on representations by staff about procedures for cleaning and checking equipment. They did, however, find drugs past their expiration dates. In reviewing 12 patient files, the surveyors found that 4 involved second-trimester abortions. In three of these four files, there were no pathology reports on the tissue, as required by the Abortion Control Act. In one file, there was no evidence that the tissue was sent to a pathologist at all. In 3 of the 12 files, the evaluators found that required lab work was missing.
On July 23, 1993, without a follow-up inspection, Susan Mitchell recorded that the deficiencies had been corrected. DOH sent Gosnell another Certificate of Approval. The certificate stated that it was “Effective From The 1st Day Of April 1993 Until March 31, 1994 In Accordance With Law.”
Gosnell’s clinic had, on May 1, 1993, submitted an “Abortion Facility Registration Form” to DOH. Whoever filled it out (it is not signed), filled in the name of the facility – Women’s Medical Society – and its mailing address, and checked off boxes indicating that the Women’s Medical Society had no parent, subsidiaries, or affiliated organizations and whether or not it had received state funds in the preceding 12 months.
During the next 16 plus years – as Gosnell collected fetuses’ feet in jars in his office and allowed medical waste to pile up in the basement; as he replaced his few licensed medical assistants with untrained workers and a high school student; as his outdated equipment rusted and broke and he routinely reused instruments designed for single-use; as he allowed unqualified staff to administer anesthesia and to deal with babies born before he arrived at work for the day; and as he caused the deaths of at least two patients while continuing to perform illegal third-trimester abortions and to kill babies outside their mothers’ wombs – DOH never conducted another on-site inspection at the Lancaster Avenue facility.