Joan Rivers’ Death Prompts Malpractice Lawsuit

Last year, the sudden death of comedian and commentator Joan Rivers from what was supposed to be a routine procedure spurred an investigation by federal investigators, and now, a lawsuit for malpractice by her daughter, Melissa.

In August, Rivers went to Yorkville Endoscopy, an outpatient clinic in New York, for treatment of throat problems. Something went horribly wrong, and she went into cardiac and respiratory arrest during the procedure. She died several days later at Mount Sinai Hospital. As reported by the New York Times, it hasn’t been determined officially exactly what killed her, but the investigation enumerated several errors.

Still, the clinic was allowed to address problems in an effort to keep its accreditation.

The Times recounted, per the suit, how the tragedy unfolded:

The anesthesiologist was getting nervous.

Joan Rivers, the comic known for her sassy wit and raspy voice, had been complaining of more than the usual hoarseness. Now Ms. Rivers was on the operating table at an Upper East Side clinic and her private doctor, Gwen Korovin, wanted to send a small instrument into her windpipe to take a second look at her vocal cords,…

The anesthesiologist warned that the cords were extremely swollen, and that they could seize up and Ms. Rivers would not be able to breathe. “You’re such a curious cat,” Dr. Lawrence Cohen, the medical director of the clinic, … scolded the anesthesiologist, … Dr. Cohen dismissed the anesthesiologist’s concern as “paranoid” and let Dr. Korovin proceed, … with disastrous results.

When Dr. Renuka Bankulla, the anesthesiologist, determined that Rivers’ airway was obstructed, that her vocal cords were closing, the claim says, she didn’t order a “crash cart” to administer a drug to relax her muscles so a breathing tube could be inserted, she waited several minutes then sought help.

Two anesthesiologists arrived, one of whom supposedly tried to administer oxygen through a mask, but it didn’t work.

Bankulla allegedly tried to find Korovin, an ear, nose and throat specialist, to perform an emergency cricohyrotomy. That’s a small incision in the throat to enable breathing. But, according to the lawsuit, Korovin had left the clinic.

Melissa Rivers’ claims are based on what The Times said were as-yet-unreleased documents, including a statement by Bankulla and interviews conducted by the medical examiner.

In addition to the errors supposedly made by the medical team (which included the failure to notice that Rivers’ vital signs were dropping), the complaint accuses Cohen of taking cellphone pictures of Rivers lying on the operating table while her brain was being damaged by lack of oxygen.

So the lawsuit also blames the celebrity culture for Rivers’ deficient treatment, accusing her doctors of being too star-struck to provide adequate care. Korovin did not have privileges at the clinic, but Cohen allowed her to attend, according to Melissa Rivers’ attorney, Jeffrey Bloom.

The suit says Korovin left the clinic when it became clear that Rivers was in trouble because she knew she was not supposed to be there, and “wanted to avoid getting caught.”

“Joan Rivers needed a doctor, not a groupie,” Bloom said in The Times.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Korovin, Bankulla, Cohen and the clinic. Cohen no longer is the clinic’s medical director, the clinic declined to comment on the lawsuit and the attorney for Bankulla told The Times, “The claims of malpractice against her are unfounded.”

In a statement, Melissa Rivers said, “Not only did my mother deserve better, every patient deserves better.”

The Times reported that the feds have given Yorkville Endoscopy until March 2 to correct problems discovered by the health investigators, or it will lose its ability to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.

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