FBI arrests doctor wanted in Australia
By WILLIAM McCALL
Wed., March. 12, 2008
PORTLAND, Ore. - First New York, then Oregon, and now Australia. Dr. Jayant Patel is accused of leaving a bloody trail of mistakes as a surgeon, now resulting in manslaughter charges.
His arrest at his Portland home Tuesday morning started the legal clock ticking on an extradition request by Australia, where he was director of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland from 2003 to 2005.
Patel made a brief appearance Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court, where a judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday afternoon. His extradition hearing was set for April 10.
The extradition complaint charges Patel under Australian law with three counts of manslaughter, three counts of grievous bodily harm, two counts of negligent acts or omissions causing harm, seven counts of fraud and one count of attempted fraud.
If convicted on all counts, Patel could face up to three life terms in prison plus 100 years.
The complaint also said Patel "actively hid his history of professional misconduct and lied repeatedly on forms required for registration in Australia."
In a separate memo filed by the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland, prosecutors said that once he was hired in Australia, "Patel bungled surgeries with tragic results."
The list included: failure to stop internal bleeding in one patient who later died; removing a healthy gland from one patient and leaving behind a cancerous gland; tearing one patient's esophagus; and performing unnecessary surgery on patients in poor health when there were less risky alternatives.
Patel told U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Hubel "most likely not" when asked whether he could afford an attorney, so he was represented by a federal public defender, Susan Russell.
A family friend, Dr. Vijay Mehta, a Texas surgeon, compared a trial for Patel in Australia to Osama bin Laden going on trial in the United States.
"His wife has told me the best chance he has got is to fight extradition because they are not sure that they can even expect a fair trial in Australia with all the publicity and the demonizing," Mehta told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio.
Russell told the judge that Patel, who was born in India, came to the United States in 1977 and became a naturalized citizen in 1982.
News of the arrest was welcomed in Australia, where an organizer of a Bundaberg Hospital patient support group immediately phoned former Patel patients to inform them after first hearing the news in the middle of the night.
"We made a pact that they were to be told and they were very excited and relieved," Beryl Crosby said.
Patel was welcomed at first at the hospital in Bundaberg, a town of about 50,000 on the east coast of Australia known for sugar cane and as the tourism gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
But then things began to go wrong for the American-trained surgeon.
Despite glowing references from fellow doctors in Oregon, complaints were emerging in Australia about his professionalism, his standard of patient care and even his personal hygiene. At one point, some nurses at Bundaberg claimed they hid patients from him.
Toni Hoffman, a nurse who worked with Patel at Bundaberg, said he regularly failed to wash his hands between patients, and another nurse, Gail Aylmer, an infection control specialist at the hospital, said he once claimed "doctors' hands don't have germs."
He treated more than 1,200 patients during two years in Australia. He was charged with manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after a government inquiry concluded in 2006 that he may have contributed directly to 13 deaths due to an "unacceptable level of care."
Patel trained in New York state at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in the 1980s, where he was cited for failure to examine some patients before operating on them _ a failure that "clearly evidenced his moral unfitness to practice medicine," according to the New York Commissioner of Health at the time.
However, after a three-year disciplinary probation, Patel was hired in 1989 by Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Portland.
By 1998, he had been sued several times and the Portland hospital had severely restricted his practice after reviewing 79 complaints. Patel left the hospital in 2001 after the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners cited him for "gross or repeated acts of negligence" and extended the restrictions on his practice statewide.