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Woman Claims Malpractice In AIDS Case

September 22, 1987

........................CORRECTIVE OF SEPTEMBER 26, 1987................. (AP) _ The Associated Press reported erroneously Sept. 21 that Dr. Cynthia McGinn of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge was named in a malpractice suit by a Cambridge woman suffering from AIDS.

Original court papers in the case had listed Dr. McGinn as a defendant, but a complaint alleging malpractice had been amended before Sept. 21. The Harvard Community Health Plan and Dr. Kenneth Bernstein, who remained as defendants, were cleared Friday by a jury hearing the case. (1950EDT) ...........................................................................

A woman suffering from AIDS testified Monday that physicians insisted she was only in need of mental help when she first became concerned about symptoms caused by the fatal virus.

Elizabeth Ramos, 32, is seeking unspecified damages from the Harvard Community Health Plan and doctors Kenneth Bernstein and Cynthia McGinn. She claims the physicians were negligent in their diagnosis and treatment of her illness, even though her symptoms were evident.

Some experts at the trial said they believe the hearing is the first involving an alleged AIDS malpractice case.

Commenting on the suit, Alan Raymond, spokesman for Harvard Health, said in a prepared statement that the company sympathizes with Ms. Ramos, but ″the facts of her case are very complicated and we are restricted as to how much we can say by the confidentiality of her medical record.

″The issue is whether Harvard Community Health Plan offered her appropriate treatment for her illness.″ Raymond said. ″We believe her care was both compassionate and appropriate.″

Ms. Ramos, a former bookkeeper, told a Middlesex County Superior Court jury that she needed medical help when she first approached Bernstein, appointed her physician under the health plan.

She testified that Bernstein told her the symptoms were imaginary and the result of mental illness.

Ms. Ramos said she contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome from a former boyfriend, an intraveneous drug user. AIDS devastates the human immune system, making the body prey to a variety of maladies.

According to her complaint, Ms. Ramos noticed skin lesions, respiratory difficulties and cardiovascular problems in 1984. The complaint said Bernstein also noted the problems in a medical examination.

Ms. Ramos saw Bernstein several times in 1984 and 1985, complaining of a variety of problems, but he advised that her symptoms were the result of stress, or of cigarette smoking and lack of exercise, the complaint said.

She said she later informed Bernstein that blood donation officials informed her she had AIDS antibodies in her system.

The health maintenance organization ultimately performed a test to determine if she had pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, which is common among AIDS victims, but results were incomplete because the machine ″ran out of paper and the test was not completed,″ according to the complaint.

On Sept. 25, 1985, Ms. Ramos said she sought help at the emergency room of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, agreeing to pay for care herself. According to the complaint, Ms. Ramos informed the emergency room supervisor, Ms. McGinn, that she’d tested positive for AIDS, but Ms. McGinn recommended that Ms. Ramos receive a mental health evaluation.

On Sept. 28, according to the complaint, Ms. Ramos asked the health care organization to be admitted to a hospital. The complaint says organization officials told Ms. Ramos that the only treatment they felt she qualified for was psychiatric hospitalization.

Ms. Ramos said she went two days later to Boston City Hospital, where she was admitted and given an immediate diagnosis of pneumocystis pneumonia. Since then, she has received specialized treatment for AIDS. The complaint says the Harvard Community Health Plan has refused to pay her medical costs.

Attorney Larry Bloom, representing Bernstein, said the defendants will prove ″that we simply didn’t commit malpractice.″

Ms. Ramos named her two sons, Christopher and Matthew, plaintiffs in the case, saying the boys suffered because of their mother’s illness.

In her malpractice suit, Ms. Ramos contends she suffered irreparable damage due to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. The suit says she probably will live for a shorter time as a result of the delay.

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