ROCKFORD, Ill - A Pueblo doctor who surrendered her Colorado license after a series of medical mistakes moved to Rockford, Ill., where she now faces additional allegations of mistakes and injuring patients, a CALL7 investigation found.
Dr. Denise Crute has since left Rockford, and completed a fellowship and is currently practicing at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the country – Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, CALL7 Investigators found.
CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia caught up with Crute in New York but she declined to comment on her history of medical mistakes and moves that allowed her to practice medicine in other states.
“You’ve admitted harm in Colorado and then you moved to Illinois and now you’ve got lawsuits in Illinois,” Ferrugia said to Crute.
Crute didn’t comment and her attorney, who was with her, advised her to leave.
“You can just walk away,” he said.
Public records show Crute has moved to different states after a series of medical mistakes in Colorado and Illinois. She continues practicing medicine because of a loophole in most state laws that allow doctors to surrender their licenses in lieu of discipline. That surrender, while reported to medical boards across the country, is not considered discipline, interviews and records show.
Most state medical board rules only allow regulators to deny a license if a doctor has been disciplined in another state, but with a surrender most states, including Colorado, must give the doctor a license.
Crute’s medical practice clearly shows how a doctor can continue to practice despite injuring patients and making mistakes, including operating on the wrong sides of patients’ bodies.
In 2004, Crute, a neurosurgeon, came under investigation by Colorado regulators for medical mistakes on 17 patients, records show. Instead of fighting the charges, Crute allowed her license to expire, signing a settlement where she admitted to four mistakes and agreed not to practice in Colorado.
In settling the license action in Colorado, Crute admitted to operating on the wrong side of one patient’s brain, the wrong part of another patient’s spine and leaving the operating room during surgery. She also admitted to failing to review the radiological report of a CT scan of a patient from a car accident. That patient, Dennis Mindenhall, had an aneurysm after he was released from her care, was in hospice for more than a year because of the brain damage caused by the aneurysm and then died, his family told CALL7 Investigators.
Dennis Mindenhall's brother, Michael Mindenhall, blames Crute for the death of his brother after she failed to treat his injury.
“They told me that if it had been treated when they found it, he would’ve been fine,” Mindenhall said.
After promising not to practice again in Coloradoin 2005, Crute left the state. She was hired at OSF St. Anthony’s Hospital in Rockford, Ill., to do neurosurgery.
The hospital knew it would be a controversial hire, according to a draft media plan the hospital came up with to explain her hiring. CALL7 Investigators obtained the media plan, which explains what arguments would and wouldn’t work to explain her hiring.
The plan notes Colorado never revoked Crute’s license and that New York and Illinois regulators, after thoroughly investigating Crute, issued her licenses to practice medicine. It notes her distinguished academic background and that the four medical errors in Colorado were only .0006 percent of the patients she treated.
But the plan also says public relations people can’t use the argument that she never harmed anyone because “one of the four patients died” and can’t argue the lawsuits are old because the latest one was about two years before she was hired in Rockford.
The media plan also says Crute’s mistakes helped her improve her medical practice.
“I have made mistakes in those four cases,” Crute is quoted in the document. “Those cases have changed how I provided care and made me a better physician.”
But it wasn’t long before Crute made similar mistakes in Rockford, according to lawsuits and an Illinois medical board investigation obtained by CALL7 Investigators.
The Illinois Division of Professional Regulation said Crute made mistakes on three patients, including operating on the wrong side of Mary Friday’s spine.
“When I woke up from the recovery … I couldn’t move my right foot and couldn’t feel my right foot and I didn’t go in for a right-sided injury,” Friday told Ferrugia. “That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Illinois regulators, like regulators in Colorado, allege Crute performed surgery on the wrong part of the body, according to the investigative complaint.
“Failing to properly perform surgery on patient M.F.,” the complaint says. “Performing surgery on the wrong site of patient M.F.’s spine, specifically L4-L5 disc space on the right instead of L4-L5 disc space on the left.”
The Illinois investigative complaint also included the 2005 complaint from the Colorado medical board, but Illinois regulators knew about the Colorado complaint when they issued her a Illinois license. Illinois regulators declined comment on the current complaint or why they allowed Crute to practice in Illinois.
St. Anthony's hospital CEO David A. Schertz declined comment when Ferrugia caught up with him outside the medical center.
Before Crute performed spinal surgery on Friday, Friday said she was an active mother and wife, loving dancing and hiking. But after the surgery, she is barely able to walk.
“I was very spontaneous with my life and enjoyed life to its fullest, but now this has caused me a great deal of pain – more pain than I can tolerate,” Friday said.
Meanwhile in Colorado, Mindenhall said state regulators could have prevented the suffering of patients in other states if they had acted.
“They should have taken her license,” he said. “But instead they just slap her hands and let her go. That’s just wrong. That’s somebody passing the buck.”
Marschall Smith, program director for the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners, said the board was satisfied that Colorado patients would be protected by their agreement with Crute, and Colorado taxpayers would not have to spend a lot of tax money litigating to take her license.
“The board’s primary obligation is to protect the public health and safety and welfare in Colorado,” he said. “That’s our mandate.”
“Why wouldn’t I surrender my license in Colorado and say fine I won’t practice here but now I have no public discipline (and) I’m gonna go to another state where I know I can practice?” Ferrugia asked.
“I really don’t have a good answer for that,” Smith said.
Mount Sinai officials said Crute completed a fellowship and treats patients after surgery but does not perform surgery.
“Dr. Crute completed a one-year neurointensive care fellowship at Mount Sinai from July 2011 to July 2012,” the Mount Sinai statement said. “She is now responsible for providing care to patients with a full range of neurosurgical and neurological disorders in an ICU setting, but not in an operating room, and she has performed well under continued supervision.”
But court documents for her Illinois cases, Crute said she has unrestricted privileges to perform neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Friday said these doctors just get in trouble in one state and move to the next.
“When you heard Dr. Crute is at Mount Sinai hospital in New York on a fellowship, what did you think?” Ferrugia asked her.
“I thought that sounds about right,” Friday said. “I thought she’s trying to reinvent herself. She’s got a license out there.”
OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center Statement
Recently, we learned of concerns regarding a neurosurgeon, Dr. Crute, who was previously on staff at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center from 2006-2010. While Dr. Crute is no longer employed at our hospital, we believe that it is important to clarify a few key issues regarding our organization and Dr. Crute’s tenure here:
OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center has provided compassionate and advanced medical care for over 100 years in the Rockford metropolitan area. We were awarded the Illinois Hospital Association Quality Care Institute’s 2012 Quality Excellence Achievement Award, and are ranked in the US News’s 2012 Guide to Best Hospitals. In addition, we established the first Level 1 Trauma Center in the Rockford metropolitan area and, for more than 30 years, have been and remain committed to providing critical trauma service that meets the needs of our community.
We follow rigorous guidelines for employment criteria and hiring protocols. In addition to relying on the licensure standards enforced by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the rigorous screening process required for Board certification, the hospital’s medical staff conducts an independent credentialing process to determine if a physician meets its stringent criteria to be made a member of the medical staff. The medical staff then makes recommendations to the hospital regarding the privileges it feels a physician should be awarded, after it concludes its review of a candidate’s qualifications. We regret that we are prohibited by law under the Illinois Medical Studies Act from disclosing specifics related to any one specific candidate’s application process. The Medical Studies Act protects references sources, allowing frank feedback of and between doctors that is critical to the evaluation process for many, from Board Certification to employment purposes.
We hire well-qualified surgeons, doctors, nurses and staff in full compliance and often exceeding standards set forth by State of Illinois standards and federal regulations. It is important to note that all physicians on staff at Saint Anthony Medical Center are subject to Quality Assurance oversight—a process that involves significant oversight and monitoring of outcome statistics on a regular and continuous basis. Dr. Crute is a well-credentialed neurosurgeon, is board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, and is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Diplomate of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, preeminent neurological associations. She is an active contributing member of her medical professional community, a past president of the national Women in Neurosurgery, and helped establish the first neurosurgical program in Western Honduras. Moreover, during her residency, she was selected as chief neurosurgery resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, after obtaining her undergraduate degree at Duke and medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Patient safety and ethical care remains our top priority. We take very seriously the trust that our patients have placed in us and maintaining a commitment to medical excellence.