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SSM Health Care apologizes for brain-surgery error

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Regina Turner

Photo of Regina Turner. Courtesy of her family.

SSM Health Care acknowledged Tuesday that its neurosurgeon and medical staff recently operated on the wrong side of a St. Louis-area woman’s brain and skull.

The admission — and a lengthy public apology — followed a Post-Dispatch story in Tuesday’s paper about a lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Regina Turner of St. Ann.

“SSM Health Care and SSM St. Clare Health Center sincerely apologize for the wrong-site surgery in our operating room,” Chris Howard, president and chief executive of SSM Health Care-St. Louis, said in a written statement.

As a result of the mistaken surgery on April 4, Turner, 53, now needs 24-hour nursing care for her basic needs and cannot speak intelligibly, said Alvin Wolff Jr., her Clayton-based attorney.

According to the lawsuit filed in circuit court in Clayton, the former paralegal “will also continue to suffer from emotional distress, anxiety, disfigurement and depression.”

“This was a breakdown in our procedures, and it absolutely should not have happened,” Howard wrote in his statement. “We apologized to the patient and continue to work with the patient and family to resolve this issue with fairness and compassion. We immediately began an investigation.”

SSM’s statement did not identify the neurosurgeon who operated on Turner. Her lawsuit identifies that doctor only by the initials “A.L.” Wolff, however, confirmed that the neurosurgeon who operated on his client was Dr. Armond Levy of the SSM Neurosciences Institute.

The Post-Dispatch made several attempts Monday to reach Levy, 46, an employee of SSM Health Care, for his comment on the Turner case. Kristen Johnson, an SSM spokeswoman, said Monday night that she had spoken briefly to Levy about the newspaper’s request for comment.

Johnson also said that a federal patient privacy law — HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — prohibits Levy from publicly discussing the case.

Levy, who received a medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is based at St. Clare Health Center in Fenton. He also has staff privileges at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights and DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton.

“We have since taken steps to be even more vigilant to prevent such an error from happening again,” Howard wrote. “Medicine is a human endeavor, and sadly, people and systems are not perfect. When an error occurs, it is tragic for the patient, their loved ones and the medical team.

“Our SSM St. Clare Health Center team is made up of dedicated health care professionals who are devastated,” he wrote. “We can and will do better. That is our commitment to the community.”

The Creve Coeur-based nonprofit health system operates 18 hospitals in Missouri and three other states. Its annual operating revenue is about $3.3 billion.

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