President Biden’s choice to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a long history of alleged malpractice and was a named defendant in four legal cases. The American Accountability Foundation says that malpractice cases against doctors are common but warns that the past allegations against Dr. Monica Bertagnolli are particularly worrying and “raise serious questions about her medical abilities, supervisory skills, and temperament.”
Complaints against the doctor include a botched hernia surgery, two cancer diagnosis delays, and she was named in a wrongful death lawsuit. The hernia case resulted in a courtroom trial – which is unusual and only occurs in around 7% of malpractice claims. Bertagnolli improperly used sutures instead of mesh during a hernia surgery on a patient named Eva Falcon in 1996. The patient required two additional surgeries thanks to complications, but the doctor insisted her method was valid. However, Dr. Bertagnolli was found liable and ordered to pay half a million dollars in damages.
During the 2001 trial, Falcon’s attorney described Bertagnolli as arrogant and unwilling to admit mistakes on her part.
In Massachusetts, the family of Jazmine Sneed, who died at the age of 34 under Dr. Bertagnolli’s care, filed a malpractice case, which soon turned into a wrongful death suit. The family said Bertagnolli was incompetent and negligent in taking 15 months to diagnose Sneed with cancer. A malpractice tribunal found that the allegation was “sufficient to raise a legitimate question of liability appropriate for judicial inquiry.”
In a New York case, the doctor allegedly caused permanent damage to a patient who was left with incontinence and irreparable injuries to her vagina. This case and the wrongful death suit involving Jazmine Sneed are ongoing.
The President nominated Bertagnolli for the NIH post in May, but it remains pending in the Senate. Biden described the doctor as a world-class physician with the vision and leadership to ensure improvement in American health. She is currently the director of the National Cancer Institute.