Dr. Jonathan Heard
A full-time surgeon at King/Drew, Heard was faulted in the 1992 death of Sheriff's Deputy Nelson Yamamoto.
The deputy had a better than even chance of surviving his gunshot wounds, but Heard administered a lethal combination of heart medications, said county prosecutors in a report issued three years later. The district attorney never filed charges, however, saying a jury would be unlikely to convict.
Since then, Heard has been named in three other malpractice suits resulting in payouts to people he treated while moonlighting at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. They include a $285,000 jury award in 1999 to a patient who suffered a massive infection after Heard missed a perforation in his esophagus during surgery, court records say.
Another case, which was settled for an undisclosed sum, also prompted a formal accusation from the Medical Board of California in 2002. The board accused Heard of misdiagnosing a 27-year-old man with appendicitis when he actually had Crohn's disease, an intestinal disorder.
According to the board's allegations, Heard told Brian Kelly's family that he had removed Kelly's appendix, and he billed the man's insurance company for the procedure. Heard hadn't removed the organ, however. He had stitched through Kelly's intestinal tract, the board said, and after an infection developed, another doctor operated and found "a normal, intact appendix."
Heard has asked for a hearing to contest the board's allegations, but declined to comment on them in an interview. In the sheriff's deputy case, he said, the board did not pursue discipline against him after he passed an oral examination.
In general, Heard acknowledged making some mistakes but said all surgeons did, especially in difficult cases.
"I want you to find me a surgeon that works in a high-risk field and find one that has not had any type of adverse action against him," he said.
Dr. Richard Branan
BRANAN was hired as a neurosurgeon at King/Drew in 2002, four months after a Colorado jury found him at fault in the care of a patient and ordered him to pay a $5.8-million malpractice award. It was one of the largest such verdicts in that state's history.
The patient, an inspector at a nuclear weapons plant, had become paralyzed after Branan removed a suspicious mass from his back, the lawsuit said.
After a judge reduced the jury award, Branan settled the case last year for more than $1.5 million, according to a Times analysis of data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a clearinghouse for information on malpractice and discipline against doctors.
Branan settled three other cases last year for $70,000 to $350,000, and one for an unspecified sum this year involving care he provided in Colorado.
Branan faced other difficulties in his career: He was terminated from one neurosurgical job in Colorado in 1996 and was asked to leave his physician-training program in the mid-1970s.
In both cases, his difficulties arose from conflicts with other doctors, according to his own testimony in one Colorado lawsuit. Branan declined to comment.
Dr. Sharon Ashley
ASHLEY, an anesthesiologist, has been in charge of King/Drew's doctor-training programs since 2001. During her tenure, accreditors have ordered the closure of training programs in radiology, surgery and neonatology. Accreditors say King/Drew's overall supervision of its residents ranks it among the U.S.' worst teaching hospitals.
Yet last fiscal year, Ashley was one of King/Drew's highest-paid employees, earning $333,341, with her academic stipend.
Ashley has had other troubles. In a discrimination lawsuit, lawyers for a middle-aged doctor contended that Ashley had urged his removal from a residency program because of his age, causing him to have a heart attack. In 2000, a jury ruled in the man's favor, against King/Drew and its affiliated medical school. The county settled with his family for $3.8 million in 2002, after he had died.
In 1996, the Medical Board of California gave Ashley two years' probation for not properly supervising 14 physician assistants, including five not licensed in California. Though this involved private clinics, she was also working at King/Drew then.
Ashley referred questions to attorney Mark Ravis. In a letter to The Times, he said that her medical board sanction resulted from a "technical violation" and that the jury's decision in the discrimination case was wrong. Ravis praised Ashley's accomplishments, saying she was eminently qualified for her position.
Dr. Arthur Fleming
FLEMING was forced out in 2003 as chairman of the King/Drew surgery department. Later, as the county was attempting to fire him, he resigned from the hospital staff.
Even so, for the fiscal year ending last June, he was the second-highest-paid King/Drew doctor, earning $399,367, including an academic stipend.
County health officials blamed Fleming after a national accrediting group withdrew its endorsement of the surgery residency program in August 2003, forcing its closure last June.
Separately, a 2003 county health department audit raised concerns about delays in surgeries and absenteeism among surgical staff. It also said that Fleming's department made loans to physicians from surgery accounts and that it did not track whether the money was repaid.
Overall, the audit said, the department's leadership showed a "fundamental absence of administrative skills or competence."
Fleming has defended his performance, and last week referred a reporter to his testimony at a state Assembly hearing in September 2003. There, he said that the loss of the residency program was not his fault and that the council's action was based on misinformation. He also said he kept his department going for years despite inadequate resources from the county.
Dr. Fred Reed
REED was accepted into King/Drew's internal-medicine training program in 1998 despite admitting that he had been convicted of Medicaid fraud and, as a result, had lost his medical license in Louisiana, records show.
Twenty days after Reed began his residency, in July 1998, the attorney general of Louisiana informed King/Drew's affiliated medical school that he had "major problems" that would impair his ability to practice medicine, the school said in court records. He was fired a year later.
In an interview, Reed said that he had been forthcoming with the hospital and medical school but that "they were having problems getting residents in who could pass the licensing exam, and they rushed me in because of that."
Reed said he had believed that King/Drew, when it accepted him, was giving him a second chance. Then "they just sabotaged me and they made me the fall guy," he said.
In 2003, a state Court of Appeal rejected his claims of wrongful termination.