State probes LIC clinic for hiring disturbed doc

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The state Health Department is investigating a Long Island City abortion clinic that hired a Manhattan obstetrician after he had carved his initials on a patient's stomach, officials said this week.

Choices, at 29-28 41st Ave., hired Allan Zarkin as its medical director Nov. 1 after he had been fired from Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. Zarkin has admitted to a Sept. 7 incident in which he carved his initials with a scalpel on the stomach of a woman on whom he had just performed a Caesarean section.

The Long Island City clinic, which performs about 15,000 abortions annually, is under investigation for how it checks the credentials of its employees and for other "quality of care" complaints, said Kristine Smith, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health.

Zarkin agreed to have his license suspended, effective Jan. 7, while the state investigates the incident, Smith said.

Beth Israel is also under investigation for failing to make a report of the incident that could be entered into a computerized database of incidents, Smith said.

"We did not receive such a report from the hospital," she said.

State health officials were expected to announce the initial results of their investigation of the two medical centers this week.

The formal misconduct report submitted by Beth Israel about Zarkin's actions also failed to specify what he had done and stated only that he had committed "grossly inappropriate conduct," Smith said.

State health officials were also investigating Zarkin for two other cases in which he allegedly verbally abused a patient and failed to provide proper supervision for a procedure, so they assumed the Beth Israel complaint was of a similar nature, Smith said.

If state officials had been aware of the exact nature of his actions, "we would have acted immediately," Smith said.

Instead, Zarkin was allowed to continue practicing medicine until the details of the carving case came to light in January. The state is not empowered to summarily suspend a license unless the doctor "poses an imminent threat to public health," the spokeswoman said.

"Verbal abuse does not pose an imminent threat to public health," Smith said. "Carving your initials in a patient's abdomen, that does."

Zarkin has admitted to the incident, and the patient is suing him for $5.5 million. The doctor's lawyers reportedly have defended his actions as the result of a brain disorder called Pick's disease, which can cause inappropriate or bizarre behavior.

Officials at Choices insisted that they were kept in the dark about Zarkin's misconduct.

"He was a very good doctor," said Joy Silver, a clinic spokeswoman. "He had a spotless record. There was no record of it."

Silver said the clinic's director, Merle Hoffman, has known Zarkin for 20 years and did check his credentials.

"His license was not revoked, was not suspended," Silver said.

Silver said the voluntary suspension of his license and the reports of misconduct had not yet appeared on state records when Zarkin was hired.

"There is a lag time," Silver said. "What we would wish for is that Beth Israel would say something. We heard nothing from them. There is a conspiracy of silence between doctors."

Hoffman knew Zarkin had been fired from Beth Israel, but neither the doctor nor his former employer revealed anything about the carving incident, Silver said.

At one point, the clinic director called Beth Israel because Zarkin's admitting privileges, which authorize him to admit patients at the hospital, were to expire on Dec. 13, Silver said. She said hospital officials never told her why the admitting privileges had been revoked.

"We were waiting for his second set of privileges to come in," Silver said.

But the state health department is investigating whether Choices went far enough in checking why Zarkin's privileged had been revoked, Smith said.

The chairman of the Obstetrics­/Gynecology Department at Beth Israel, Dr. Daniel Saltzmann, had visited the Choices clinic in December and met with Zarkin and Choices staff about extending Beth Israel's midwifery program to the clinic. Silver said Saltzmann revealed nothing about Zarkin's record at that meeting.

"He never said a word," she said.

"Dr. Saltzmann did have an exploratory discussion with the Choices clinic," said Jim Mandler, a spokesman for Beth Israel. "For a variety of reasons we did not pursue it. That's our statement."

Mandler would not answer any questions about why Saltzmann had agreed to meet with Zarkin or why he said nothing to Choices staff about him.

The New York Post reported Wednesday that Saltzmann had stepped down from his post as chairman but remained on the staff at Beth Israel.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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