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Ex-King/Drew Doctor Resigns Post in Texas

Times Staff Writers

Pathologist Dennis G. Hooper resigned from the staff of a San Antonio hospital Tuesday, one week after The Times detailed accusations by his former colleagues and California regulators that he had misdiagnosed patients while at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

“We believe it has become extremely difficult for Dr. Hooper to effectively continue in his role as a pathologist,” said a joint statement released Tuesday by the Baptist Health System and AmeriPath Inc., a private company that provides pathology services at the hospital.

The statement also indicated that Hooper was no longer employed by AmeriPath.

The hospital is continuing a review of the doctor’s work at Baptist, and pledged to report any problems to authorities, the statement said.

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Hooper’s California attorney, J. Grant Kennedy, said the media focus on his client had placed enormous pressure on the pathologist and the hospital.

“Right now, working is a huge difficulty for Dr. Hooper,” Kennedy said. “This is devastating him.... The resignation was the only solution.”

Hooper, 55, was placed on administrative leave from Baptist a week ago “as a precaution,” while the hospital investigated the issues raised in a long Times article about him.

Hooper worked at King/Drew from 2000 to 2002. The Medical Board of California has accused him of negligence in the care of six patients at King/Drew, a Los Angeles County public hospital in Willowbrook, south of Watts. The pathologist is contesting the accusation, filed in October 2003.

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Among the cases cited by the board is that of Johnnie Mae Williams, who went to King/Drew in March 2001 for a seemingly minor gynecological exam. Hooper determined that she had cancer of the uterine lining, and surgeons removed all of her reproductive organs, according to her medical records.

Hooper was wrong. Records show that his findings were based on a slide from another patient, who had brain cancer. In his report, Hooper raised the possibility that the slide had been mislabeled, but the California medical board said he did not investigate further.

Six months before Williams’ operation, Hooper’s fellow pathologists at King/Drew had written a letter to the hospital’s medical leaders, warning that their colleague was sloppy and had misdiagnosed other patients. But their concerns were ignored, a county audit found later.

Although county auditors eventually recommended that King/Drew discipline Hooper, the hospital did not do so, county health officials acknowledge. After the doctor left King/Drew, he moved to Texas and began working at Baptist in August 2003.

In its Dec. 7 article, The Times also said Hooper had encountered professional and business troubles before joining King/Drew. For instance, he had settled a malpractice case in San Diego for $450,000 and had been sanctioned by the federal government for misrepresenting the credentials of his private laboratories.

On Tuesday, Dr. Timothy Dutra, one of Hooper’s former King/ Drew colleagues, said the pathologist should have been disciplined long ago for his mistakes at King/Drew.

“I just think this is his past catching up with him,” said Dutra, who has since left the hospital. “In a more reasonable world, this wouldn’t have gone this far.... The system really failed.”

Karen May, a spokeswoman for Baptist, would not discuss the terms of Hooper’s departure or any other details.

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For previous articles on King/Drew, go to latimes.com/kingdrew.


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