WNYC / Gothamist’s NYC NOW presents
One Doctor and a Trail of Injured Women”
One Doctor and a Trail of Injured Women”
New investigative series examines how doctors with track records of medical negligence manage to continue practicing medicine
Five-part series follows the career of an OB-GYN, who lost and regained his New York State medical license, and is now practicing at St. Barnabas Health in the Bronx and at Texas Tech Physicians in Amarillo, Texas
“Imminent Danger” is the first multipart, long-form investigation released on NYC Now, WNYC’s thrice-daily local news podcast
Episode one available here; new episodes drop every Saturday through November 4
(New York, NY, October 11, 2023) – WNYC has launched a major five-part investigative series: “Imminent Danger: One Doctor and a Trail of Injured Women,” hosted by WNYC’s Investigative Editor, Christopher Werth. The series traces the career of OB-GYN Thomas J. Byrne, whose medical license was revoked by New York State officials in 1991 for gross negligence, gross incompetence, and obtaining a license fraudulently. Despite this, Byrne went on to practice in New Mexico and Oklahoma, where other patients continued to allege he harmed them. And in 2014, New York State restored Byrne’s medical license as well. He has since practiced at Harlem Hospital and at St. Barnabas Health in the Bronx, where he continues to do so today
“Imminent Danger” is the first multi-episode investigation featured on NYC NOW, the thrice-daily local news podcast from WNYC and Gothamist. Additional reporting from the series is being published every Monday in Gothamist. The debut episode is out now and can be heard here.
Through meticulous research, reporter Karen Shakerdge obtained over 4,000 pages of public records and court filings. They reveal multiple instances in which hospitals took action regarding his clinical privileges and former supervisors have raised questions about his honesty and quality of care. One state medical board has filed a public letter of concern about him. In all, we learn that Byrne has been named in 23 lawsuits brought by former patients accusing him of medical negligence. The series includes new analysis using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank and New York’s database of medical board actions.
“‘Imminent Danger’ probes the mind-boggling question of how a doctor with a trail of malpractice lawsuits could find himself once again practicing medicine in our city, and asks what that says about our state review boards entrusted with these decisions,” said Audrey Cooper, Editor in Chief, WNYC. “This is our first multipart series to be released on NYC Now, the local news podcast we launched in April to give New Yorkers another way to access critical reporting from the WNYC /Gothamist newsroom. ‘Imminent Danger’ is a significant story, and is the kind of longer-form journalism we can provide audiences across platforms.”
Episode 1: Wrongful Death (available now)
The series debuts with the story of Amy Lam who died in 2016 under the care of Byrne, among other physicians at Harlem Hospital. Her family’s attorney learned of Byrne’s past, including the fact that New York found him to be an “imminent danger” to patients and ultimately took away his medical license. We go in search of answers: how does a doctor get a new license in one state after losing one in another? And in this case, how did Byrne get his license back in the state that found him guilty of gross incompetence?
Episode 2: License Revoked
In 1991, New York State health officials concluded that Byrne had harmed 11 patients – including five newborn babies and their mothers – in a span of two years. We meet Donita Henry, who testified in the state hearings about what happened to her and her daughter, Megan, while under Byrne’s care. But within about a year of losing his license to practice in New York, he obtained one in New Mexico. Shakerdge also talks with the man who, after evaluating Byrne in a unique retraining program for doctors, recommended to state medical authorities that Byrne was ready to continue practicing.
Episode 3: The Gatekeepers
Almost a decade after Byrne lost his license in New York, he was practicing near Oklahoma City, where Marquita Baird saw him for a hysterectomy and later filed one of the 10 lawsuits brought against him while he practiced in Oklahoma. In this episode, we take a step back to learn about the main gatekeepers who are tasked with protecting the public: medical boards. Shakerdge speaks with the executive directors of the state medical boards in Oklahoma and New Mexico about their decisions to grant Byrne medical licenses, despite his history.
Episode 4: Loopholes
Now practicing at a new hospital near Tulsa, Oklahoma, Byrne catches the attention of a medical director who starts to keep tabs on Byrnes’s patient outcomes. We look at the role hospitals play in patient safety and doctor discipline. And learn that a little more than thirty years ago, the federal government realized that doctors with dubious histories could easily move from state to state, and hospital to hospital. The National Practitioner Data Bank was established to help state medical boards and hospitals track physicians nationally. But experts say there are loopholes in the system that allow hospitals to avoid reporting doctors who may pose a threat to patients.
Episode 5: New York, Again
When New York revoked Byrne’s license in 1991, a spokesperson for the health department said that while it wouldn’t be impossible for him to get his license back, it would be very difficult. So, why did New York restore Byrne’s medical license? The investigation reveals findings that may help explain why Byrne has been able to continue practicing. For the people whose cases were central to Byrne losing his license in New York over 30 years earlier, the fact that he is back practicing in the state stirs up difficult memories and anger. And four years after Amy Lam died at Harlem Hospital, court records show Byrne was involved in another incident in New York state; a baby was lacerated down his back and buttocks during a c-section.
“Imminent Danger” was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
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