Father questions WakeMed's pediatric care claims
Posted July 16, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A Garner father is questioning the care his 7-year-old daughter received at WakeMed Children’s Emergency Department and says the doctor who treated her does not specialize in pediatric care, despite the fact that department is promoted as an ER for children.
Joe Rabiega says his daughter Cassie was in dance class on March 10 when she suddenly collapsed, hitting her head. She became disoriented and pale and began vomiting. He rushed her to WakeMed Children’s Emergency Department – the first children’s-only ER in the state.
“Basically, the initial thing we were told is it’s the virus that’s going around. She’s got a viral thing,” he said.
Rabiega wasn’t convinced. He filed complaints with the North Carolina Medical Board and a hospital accreditation group because he said he felt the emergency room physician, Dr. Brian O’Neal, did not address his concerns about his daughter’s symptoms.
“(O’Neal) actually said, ‘Oh, I’m not explaining this well to a child, am I?’” Rabiega recalled. “That was pretty much – maybe not specific, but pretty close – and at this point, I’m shocked."
A second doctor came in and wanted to do more tests, but after seven hours in the ER, Cassie was ready to go home. Rabiega said he later discovered that O'Neal is not a pediatric ER physician.
WRAL Investigates asked WakeMed for a response from O'Neal but he declined. As of Thursday, the medical board investigation into Rabiega's complaint was still open. The hospital accreditation group acknowledged receiving his complaint and sent a notice to WakeMed that a complaint was filed.
Dr. Amy Griffin, medical director of WakeMed Children's Emergency Department, admits not all of the physicians who work there are specialized in pediatric emergency medicine but says emergency medicine training alone covers pediatrics.
“Across the country, there’s actually a shortage of pediatric emergency physicians,” Griffin said. “You’re seeing children from zero to 18 in any emergency department and, across the board, pediatrics make up approximately 25 percent of any emergency department.”
When asked if that training is enough for a children’s emergency department, Griffin said, “Yes, it is.”
More than 80 doctors work in WakeMed’s emergency rooms across the county. Fifteen doctors rotate into the WakeMed Children’s Emergency Department. Nine of them are both emergency and pediatric specialists. WakeMed says nine is the most of any children's emergency department in the state.
They serve an ER that is one of the busiest in the state and sees more than 40,000 children each year. An additional 20,000 children go to other WakeMed ERs. WakeMed's website said its children’s ER is staffed with doctors and nurses "specially trained in both emergency medicine and pediatrics," which Griffin says is accurate.
“All the physicians are trained in emergency pediatrics and/or pediatrics,” she said.
This week, WakeMed changed its website to read that the staff is "specially trained in emergency medicine," removing the words "both" and "pediatrics." The website is now more in line with websites from four other pediatric ERs in the state, which state their physicians have emergency specialties, but not necessarily pediatric.
WakeMed points out the emergency room staff can tap the resources and expertise of the entire children’s hospital. Donald R. Gintzig, president & CEO of WakeMed Health & Hospitals issued a statement, saying, “WakeMed is proud to be the home of one of the most comprehensive centers of excellence for pediatric care in North Carolina and in the southeast. As the only children’s emergency department and children’s hospital in Wake County, we provide an invaluable resource to families when it is most needed. Our team includes pediatric specialists and subspecialists, nurses, therapists and support staff who are well trained, provide exceptional care and are dedicated to the health and well-being of our community’s children. This is both a privilege and responsibility to which we are all deeply committed.”
After leaving the ER with no answers, Rabiega says he took Cassie to her pediatrician and then a neurologist, who diagnosed her with a seizure disorder. She’s currently undergoing more tests, but doctors say with her condition, Cassie should not swim alone or take part in risky activities, such as climbing trees.
“I didn’t just take the doctor’s word. I follow through. My whole purpose in telling this story is to advocate for other parents,” Rabiega said.