Veteran feeling abused by the system

Man alleges mistreatment; hospital says he is hostile and suffers from 'pseudo' condition

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2000

George Shean feels he was assaulted on two occasions when he sought medical help.

As a veteran who was wounded in war, Shean takes this seriously. To him, this is more than brusque treatment and bruises. Because he suffers from chronic grand mal seizures, he feels he was ``put out on the street to die.''

Shean, a 12-year Juneau resident, recently filed a complaint with the state medical board about the second occasion, which he alleges took place Feb. 8 at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.

An emergency room note from the hospital describes Shean as a ``fairly hostile'' man with a ``pseudo seizure.''

The complaint, dated April 13, names emergency room physician Dr. Michael Levy. It alleges that as Shean lapsed in and out of consciousness in seizures, he was ``treated roughly and with indifference by the hospital staff at the direction of Doctor Levy.''

Specifically, Shean's complaint says his lower back was ``forced up against a hard flat object ... by two or three men.'' He says this forced contact with an X-ray machine caused a football-size bruise, difficulty walking, and ``extremely intense'' pain. And he said he was denied a neurological examination.

Shean spent two hours in the emergency room. Then he was escorted to the door by a security guard and told to leave, he said. He was given no medication for his seizures, but treated ``as if I were a drug abuser,'' he said.

Shean's complaint contends he could have died as a result of not receiving medication for his seizures. The document also says he suffers from back pain, nightmares and paranoia as a result of his experiences.

When Shean's wife, Sharon, spoke with emergency room personnel, she was told Levy couldn't come to the phone, he said.

``Sharon was acting as my guardian then. She told them, `He won't know where he is. He can't speak for himself.' She told them to keep me there, but they didn't,'' Shean said.

Alaska Regional's emergency room note about Shean, signed by Levy, describes him as ``fairly hostile,'' and as ``an alert, uncooperative male in no distress.'' His condition is called ``seizure'' and, later, ``pseudo seizure.''

Kjerstin Lastufka, marketing director at Alaska Regional, said Levy is contracted to work in the emergency room.

``I have heard nothing about this (complaint),'' Levy said. ``I think we should wait to see what the state medical board says about it.''

He has 11 years experience at Alaska Regional and is board certified, Levy said. ``Emergency medicine is a very difficult specialty to perform, and people often are not happy,'' he added.

Shean flew to Anchorage in February to train as a census crew leader. On Feb. 8, he went to lunch with classmate Donald Hartin. They had been talking just a few minutes when Shean abruptly fell to the floor.

``I had no doubt that it was a seizure,'' Hartin said. ``There was nothing that indicated he was drunk or under the influence of any substance. In fact, when I returned to class, I found he had told the supervisors that he was subject to that sort of thing.''

A Federal Aviation Administration physician at the scene also diagnosed seizure, Hartin said.

Shean traces his seizures to shrapnel wounds he suffered in 1969 in Vietnam as a machine gunner with the First Infantry Division. When wounded, he was hospitalized for four months in-country and then in Japan, he said. He is considered 100 percent disabled, he said, and suffers grand mal seizures as a result.

``That a person with a real head injury can be treated like this and left on the street to die is ludicrous,'' Shean said.

Shean's first run-in with the medical establishment was on Aug. 22, 1990, in Petersburg. He went to the emergency room to seek treatment for seizures. He was denied treatment by Dr. D.A. Coon, who ordered him held in jail on protective custody, Shean said. Coon told police that Shean was homeless and destitute, Shean said.

``In fact I was a registered voter and a home owner,'' Shean said.

``I was seizuring, and Police Chief Bob Oszman pulled me off the table by the throat,'' Shean said. ``I was handcuffed and left to die.''

Shean filed charges against Oszman for assault, but was told by Juneau District Attorney Rick Svobodny that he would not prosecute Oszman.

In January 1991, the state filed a medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Coon, who was also Mayor Coon. The five-count complaint includes Shean's complaint that he was denied treatment.

Ultimately, the state sanctioned Coon and denied him access to the Petersburg Hospital. ``But he was still in practice,'' Shean said.

Shean describes himself as a sculptor who creates environmental art with water, air, fabric and fire. He also works in a medium he creates by mixing crushed marble and chalk with a resin catalyst.

``I'm 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and rather rough-looking,'' Shean said, ``but should I be condemned to death for that?''

After his experience at Alaska Regional, Shean wrote to U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, and the Veterans Administration about his treatment. The VA referred him to Michael Bell, community affairs director.

Bell said last month that he has spoken to Shean several times. ``In cases where the veteran has an argument with the quality of care, we share that with our quality manager (and) with our risk management folks,'' Bell said. He expected a written response to be sent to Shean.

Frustrated by lack of response except from Murkowski, Shean then filed his complaint against Dr. Levy with the state medical board.

``We don't normally talk about whether a complaint has been filed or not. We don't confirm or deny if there is an investigation under way,'' said Colin Matthews of the Division of Occupational Licensing in Anchorage. Matthews supervises the medical board investigator and said he was himself the investigator for many years.

``But I can tell you there has been no formal action against Dr. Levy, no licensing action. He has a clear license (to practice medicine),'' Matthews said May 25.

Shean told the Empire he is not filing a lawsuit -- and has been told he cannot file a lawsuit against an official VA provider like Alaska Regional. ``I don't want personal gain. I want to spare other veterans from being treated like fifth-class citizens.''

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