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Doc Threatens Physician's Assistant During Open Heart Surgery: "I'm Going to Put You Through the Wall"

She's now on workers' comp with post-traumatic stress disorder and collecting $2,400 per week.

Published: July 14, 2014

Harry J. DePan, MDHot-tempered, disruptive surgeons don't just threaten staff morale. They can become expensive liabilities, as a hospital in New York can testify.

Ellis Hospital, in Schenectady, is on the hook for a large and ongoing workers' comp bill as a result of a violent threat allegedly made by one of its former surgeons to a physician's assistant during an open heart procedure in 2009.

"If that happens again, I'm going to put you through the wall. I mean it," cardiothoracic surgeon Harry J. DePan, MD, said to Caterina Lucke, PA, according to N.Y. Workers' Compensation Board documents. Ms. Lucke was suctioning blood out of the pericardium at the time, and Dr. DePan allegedly lost his cool when tissue got caught in the suctioning device.

Ms. Lucke testified that the threat left her petrified, fearing for the patient's life. She said she thought Dr. DePan was out of control and that he meant what he'd said. In a consultation with a psychologist 12 days later, she was diagnosed with an "adjustment reaction." More than 2 years later, in early 2012, she was taken out of work by the psychologist, who revised his diagnosis to include post-traumatic stress disorder.

The hospital has twice sought to have Ms. Lucke's workers' comp award overturned, arguing, among other things, that she was familiar with Dr. DePan's "difficult" personality and that the presence of others in the OR undermined the severity of the threat.

But last week an appeals court again sided with Ms. Lucke, citing "uncontroverted psychiatric diagnoses" of post-traumatic stress and adjustment disorder "caused by the incident." Her average weekly wage had been set by the state board at $2,415.01.

Calls for comment by Outpatient Surgery to Ellis Hospital and to Dr. DePan, who's now at Albany Medical Center, were not returned.

Jim Burger

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