PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Do you know your doctor? A 3-On Your Side investigation reveals doctor mistakes aren’t so easy to find. Some say physicians are not being adequately monitored or disciplined. Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl finds out how this might affect you.
Dr. Federico Ceppa had nothing to say about the many allegations against him.
One comes from the family of Kevin Hribick.
“You never expect that your loved one is going to be butchered. No one should have to suffer the way he did,” said Karen Hribick, Kevin’s widow.
Kevin was 52 when he went for colon cancer surgery in Chester County. He was dead 13 days later, his wife and son watching in disbelief.
“It’s shocking what happened to him,” said Ryan Hribick, Kevin’s son.
“I miss his voice that I know I will never hear again,” said Karen.
Our Eyewitness News investigation has uncovered a litany of complaints about Dr. Ceppa, even from fellow doctors dating back to 2007, but he’s still operating.
“I say prayers to please God, don’t let him harm anyone else,” said Karen. Her lawsuit against Dr. Ceppa says he operated on the wrong side of Kevin’s colon, mistakenly removing healthy tissue, which led to a series of complications, and ultimately an infection that killed him.
“There’s no excuse for wrong side surgery. His conduct was reckless.” said Alan Schwartz, Karen’s lawyer.
Because of the Hribick case, the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine started investigating Dr. Ceppa in 2008.
Two and a half years later, just this year in February, the board began formal disciplinary action against Dr. Ceppa, the outcome is pending. It could revoke his license.
Responding to the state board allegations, Dr. Ceppa denied that he “wrongly removed healthy sections of the colon,” and that one problem during surgery is a “known and accepted complication.”
Stephanie asked Dr. Ceppa, “Do you have anything to say to Kevin Hribick’s family?”
Dr. Ceppa replied, “No comment.”
Stephanie asked Dr. Ceppa, “What about allegations that you’re incompetent and hurting patients?
Dr. Ceppa replied, “No comment.”
“He hurt me very, very bad. Terribly,” said Andrew Vandegriff, Dr. Ceppa’s former patient. He says he’s another victim. He sued Dr. Ceppa claiming he botched his hernia operation. A jury faulted the doctor, saying his conduct fell below the applicable standard of care, but awarded no damages.
“He just ruined my life,” said Andrew.
Dr. Ceppa was operating at Brandywine Hospital where fellow doctors had raised questions about him months before the Hribick operation, and other alleged mistakes.
In depositions, a hospital official admits to being told about concerns regarding Dr. Ceppa’s clinical judgment.
Brandywine Hospital never provided a comment to CBS-3.
Now Dr. Ceppa is operating at The Reading Hospital where he’s featured in a promotional video.
“It’s horrible. It’s upsetting that this man can still practice medicine and a hospital would employ him,” said Ryan.
The Reading Hospital told CBS-3, “It would be improper… to comment on events that occurred prior to a doctor’s association with The Hospital.”
“Pennsylvania has chronically been one of the states that’s doing a very bad job,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, with Public Citizen. He says the advocacy group has been tracking disciplinary actions against doctors around the country.
Pennsylvania issues on average 178 sanctions a year against doctors, which Public Citizen says rates poorly.
“There’s a clear public health and safety problem going on here,” said Dr. Wolfe.
The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine challenges the report, and says it’s highest priority is protecting the citizens health and safety.
“When’s it going to end? How long is he going to continue to maim and harm people?” asked Karen.
Visiting Kevin’s gravesite, Karen still can’t believe he’s there. The painful loss is still difficult for the family, who make regular visits to his grave.
Karen said, “He’s out of pain and at peace.”
Ryan said, “He needs justice though.”
Karen replied, “Yeah, the truth always comes out Ryan. It will come out in the end and he’ll know it.
The Hribick suit is still in pre-trial motions.
What can you do to check on a doctor? Any disciplinary action taken by a hospital against a doctor is not available to the public. But you can get information from the state board; however, only final judgments are posted, not a pending investigation. That’s why you won’t find anything about Dr. Ceppa.
Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3