September 25, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Last week we began a two-part look into what, in the opinion of this writer and the physicians, attorneys and regular people with whom I spoke, can only be described as an incredibly cold, heartless and greedy way an OB/GYN’s office dealt with one of its patients.
To re-cap, in September of 2007, 19-year-old Kendole Jones suffered a perforated uterus during the insertion of a Mirena IUD by her doctor, Jason Helliwell, of the Advanced Women’s Health Care Center in Bakersfield.
While the risk of perforation is a known complication — and not itself a basis for a malpractice suit — it is what did not happen afterwards which fell below medical and ethical standards, according to the physicians and attorneys I interviewed. To make matters worse, her health insurance was about to lapse, and the doctor’s office has admitted being fully aware that the clock was running.
“Any patient with her painful symptoms should immediately have an ultrasound performed, or other X-ray diagnostic procedures to find out what is going on, to see what happened to the IUD,” I was told by an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at a Southern California teaching hospital.
“You do not just send a patient hom, who is in such extreme pain,telling her that it’s normal.”
But they did send her home.
Despite “repeatedly calling the doctor’s office complaining of worsening pain, they delayed in seeing me for weeks, until after my health insurance ran out,” Jones said. “The doctor had to surgically remove the IUD, and despite the way in which his office just ignored me, I was billed $5,700. On top of that, $12,000 in hospital bills which we could not pay and would not have incurred, were it not for their mistakes.”
Every doctor I spoke with agrees.
Dr. Helliwell’s office turned Jones over to Financial Credit Network in Visalia, which filed suit.
The charge was improper
“It is unethical and in this case immoral for a medical office to bill a patient for their mistakes and avoidable complications they cause,” was the collective opinion of several physicians with whom I spoke, including the associate professor of obstetrics I’ve referred to earlier.
The same conclusions were reached by two IUD malpractice attorneys, but they used terms which I cannot repeat to describe their view of the doctor’s attitude — and that of his collection agency in filing suit.
Best-dressed doc (and dog) in town
Advanced Women’s Health Care Center’s Web site opens with “Compassionate OB/GYN Care.” If you have Internet, you really need to click on the “In the News/Print and Other Media” link and look for “Best Dressed.”
You’re immediately shown a photo of an elegantly dressed Dr. Helliwell, “who can thank his Los Angeles pedigree for shaping his style, usually wearing something trendy and hip picked up on his travels.”
The photo shows him “in his game room, along with his bulldog, Rocky, only hours from surgery.” (My assumption is that it is Helliwell who performed the operation, but it does not tell you if Rocky was assisting.) There are close-up shots of the doctor’s tan shoes, shirtsleeves with cuff-links, and well-tailored slacks; all no doubt cost a lot of money to buy.
The Web site will attract business, if you need a well-dressed doctor.
“It’s her fault”
One of the more charming people I met in looking into this matter was Susan Morado, who described herself as the “compliance officer” at Financial Credit Network.
“I just want to be fair,” she said, and then promptly blamed Jones for allowing her insurance to lapse. It did not matter to Morado that the doctor’s office knew it was only valid for 60 days after her baby was born in July. Having the guts to tell clients to do the morally right thing and just drop the matter isn’t a quality common to most bill collectors, and it wasn’t for Morado either. She told me, “We are going after that money. They owe it. The doctor performed a service.”
But there was something positive in all of this. Financial Network’s attorney, E. Warren Gubler of Visalia, was one bright light in a dim universe of bill collectors. He has always stood out as a guy with morals in the cases I’ve discussed with him over the years.
When I spoke with him and outlined the facts, he immediately said, “You mean they are being sued for all of this? It doesn’t seem right.”
While repeatedly asked for comments, Dr. Helliwell refused to speak with “You and the Law.”
Kendole and David Jones ultimately had to file for bankruptcy.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.