Kaiser Fresno doctor cleared of deaths of two infants Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009
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Kaiser Fresno doctor cleared of deaths of two infants
Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009

The state medical board has cleared a Fresno doctor of negligence in the deaths of two infants at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center.

Dr. Hamid Safari, a perinatologist who handled high-risk births at Kaiser Permanente's Fresno hospital, was not negligent in his treatment of two newborns, the Medical Board of California found in a decision issued this week.

The decision becomes effective March 12, the medical board ruling said. 

"It's a complete exoneration of Dr. Safari," said his lawyer, Stephen Schear of Oakland.

Kerry Weisel, a state deputy attorney general, who represented the medical board staff on the case, said Thursday that she had not seen the judge's ruling and could not comment. Kaiser officials also declined to comment.

Safari remains on suspension, with pay, from his job at Kaiser, Schear said. A hearing on his suspension is scheduled for April.

The medical board in 2007 accused Safari of gross negligence in the deaths of two newborns. The board accused Safari of using excessive force in the vacuum extraction of one twin during its April 2005 birth. The boy's spinal cord was severed.

In the other case, the board said Safari failed to order an immediate Caesarean section in the 2004 birth of a baby girl whose fetal heart monitor showed problems. The baby died about 10 months later.

Had the accusations been upheld, Safari could have lost his medical license.

But state Administrative Law Judge Cheryl Tompkin's decision found that Safari complied with standards of care for the two patients. In the first case, testimony showed another doctor had moved the twin in the uterus, possibly causing the injury. In the other case, the mother refused to consent to surgery. Doctors testified Safari risked a criminal charge of battery if he performed the surgery without his patient's consent.

The law judge faulted Safari's recordkeeping, saying it "could have been better." But she ruled that his recordkeeping still met the standards of medicine.

The evidence "failed to establish any cause for discipline" of Safari's license, the judge ruled. The medical board adopted her proposed decision.

Schear called the case "a terrible waste of resources" and said it was the result of hospital politics, not bad medicine.

Medical staffers and nurses had raised questions about Safari's competence but complained that hospital administrators failed to act.

In January 2008, federal health officials issued a critical report following an investigation into the deaths. The report suggested that if Safari had been monitored more closely, the deaths might have been prevented.

Days later, Susan Ryan, the hospital's then-top administrator, stepped down.

Safari has accused Dr. Gilbert Moran -- the former head of the obstetrics/gynecology department -- and Dr. Robert Rusche of complaining to the state medical board as part of a vendetta against him.

Safari has said the two doctors did so after he complained to superiors that one of the doctors was abusing his power on a quality review committee to go after doctors he didn't like.

Moran and Rusche sued Kaiser, claiming the HMO retaliated against them after they complained about Safari. Neither doctor could be reached to comment Thursday.

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6166.