A day after Lizzette Rodriguez was discharged from the emergency room at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was back — and this time there was no question about whether she should go or stay.
The 34-year-old mother of four had collapsed at home, but it was too late to save her. A pulmonary embolism caused her death.
The physician who saw Rodriguez on her first visit was Dr. Yvon Nazaire. The lawsuit that followed her death put the doctor under a microscope, focusing attention on his honesty as well as his competency.
The suit was one of at least four malpractice death claims filed against Nazaire and the hospitals that employed him in New York before he moved to Georgia and took a position in the state prison system, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of court records found.
Two asserted that Nazaire failed to properly diagnose the symptoms of women who died from pulmonary embolisms. Another alleged that he ignored the symptoms of a 28-year-old man who died of a heart attack. Yet another claimed he failed to deal with a 95-year-old woman who died when her ventilator malfunctioned.
The patient in the heart attack case, Tommaso Todaro, died a day after he was seen by Nazaire in the Wyckoff ER in the summer of 2002. Todaro’s symptoms and complaints weren’t properly assessed, nor was a cardiologist consulted, the lawsuit asserted.
“They just sent him home and made him feel stupid,” said Todaro’s sister-in-law, Maria Todaro.
The circumstances surrounding Tomasso Todaro’s death were part of a ruling by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct in December 2004 citing Nazaire for negligence and placing him on three years’ probation. Nazaire agreed to those provisions, board records show.
According to the board, Nazaire inappropriately discharged Todaro from the ER after treating him with two antihistamines, Benadryl and Vistral, and not noting why he did it.
The New York board also identified four other incidents of negligence on Nazaire’s part. The board’s public records don’t state whether those patients died.
Nazaire told the AJC in November that he believes he acted appropriately in all five of the cases the board cited. The only reason he signed off on the order, he said, was to avoid additional legal fees.
“I wanted to discredit this information, but I didn’t have the chance because I didn’t have the $30,000 (needed to pay his lawyer),” he said.
Other than the Todaro case, the death suits do not match the circumstances detailed in the New York board’s order, indicating that Nazaire’s issues in the state went beyond the matters considered by the board.
Nazaire declined to be interviewed after the AJC obtained the court records for the death cases.
The Rodriguez lawsuit was settled for $3 million, with $2.55 million paid by the insurance carrier for Nazaire and the company he worked for at the time of the death, court records show. But the settlement came six years after the case was filed, in large measure because the patient’s medical records could not be located.
Rodriguez’s family contended that, when the woman went to the ER in December 2003, she complained of difficulty breathing and leg pain, symptoms typically associated with a blood clot that had moved to the lungs. Nazaire should have ordered a battery of tests that could have diagnosed the problem and saved Rodriguez’s life, the family asserted.
But Nazaire said he was told only that Rodriguez’s pain wasn’t specific to one area.
“There was nothing (said) for pulmonary embolism,” he said, when asked in a deposition whether he should have ordered a lung scan, “so why the scan? The answer is no.”
Nazaire testified that, after examining Rodriguez, he followed hospital procedure, completing a chart and then putting it in a basket in the ER. Beyond that, he was unaware of what happened, he said.
“I’m (a) physician,” he testified. “I just make sure I do my care necessary. Billing and the chart, I don’t know.”
But Wyckoff Heights put the onus for the missing records on Nazaire.
The hospital noted in a court filing that Rodriguez’s chart never made it from the ER to the billing department. Moreover, Nazaire likely would have completed the chart when he first saw Rodriguez in the ER, and he would have had “unbridled” access to it when she died there 24 hours later, the hospital said.
“Dr. Nazaire was almost certainly de facto responsible to some degree for the chart’s loss,” the hospital asserted.
Nazaire relocated to Georgia in 2006, about 18 months after the ruling by the New York board. The Georgia Composite Medical Board licensed him with no restrictions, and he quickly was hired to oversee the medical care of inmates in the state prison system.
In a self-published book, “The Anatomy of Adultery, Confessions of a Saved Soul,” Nazire wrote about how he found Christ when he rejected the “carnality” of his life after landing in Georgia.
After the New York board’s decision, Nazaire wrote, he began having “difficulties” at work and financial problems that forced him into bankruptcy. Then an “invisible protector” told him to apply for a Georgia medical license even though he had no friends or relatives in the state, he wrote.
Looking for work in the state, he contacted a clerk at the medical board, he wrote. The clerk put him in contact with a physician who knew someone at an employment agency, and that’s how he found the prison position, he wrote.
“I backed my bags, left for Georgia and started a solitary life in a hotel room,” he wrote. “That’s where my transformation began.”
Although Nazaire has been the medical director at Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville for nine years, he doesn’t have a residence in Georgia. He lives in the Hawkinsville Budget Inn when on duty and commutes to his family’s home in New Jersey.
In the physician’s comments section of his public profile on the Georgia medical board’s website, Nazaire wrote: “I am a very competent physician who lives, breathes and thinks for the well being of my patients!!”
The profile does not list the $3 million settlement in the Rodriguez case even though the board requires disclosure of malpractice settlements over $300,000.