Clinica Sierra Vista and ‘temp’ doctor sued in FMHS student’s death

  • Rudolph C. Alvarado was the &quotlocum tenens" doctor hired by Clinica Sierra Vista on November 15, 2011 when FMHS student Anthony Lopez came in complaining of not being able to breathe.

    Rudolph C. Alvarado was the "locum tenens" doctor hired by Clinica Sierra Vista on November 15, 2011 when FMHS student Anthony Lopez came in complaining of not being able to breathe.

By Patric Hedlund

A personal injury medical negligence lawsuit was filed on January 23, 2013 in Kern County Superior Court against Clinica Sierra Vista’s Frazier Mountain Community Health Center and a doctor who worked as a “temp” substitute physician at the Lebec clinic in 2011.

The lead plaintiff is Diane Garfield of Pine Mountain, who says the lawsuit is over the wrongful death of her son, Anthony Joseph Lopez, 16.

The Frazier Mountain High School student died November 17, 2011 from “complications associated with leukemia,” according to the Kern County Coroner’s report which also spoke of congestion in the lungs in its autopsy report.
Ms. Garfield alleges that her son died of congestion of the lungs or pneumonia that was improperly overlooked by substitute physician Rudolph C. Alvarado, M.D. who was employed by Clinica Sierra Vista as a locum tenens doctor to fill in while the regular supervising physician was away on vacation in November 2011.

Dr. Alvarado was based in Fresno in 2011, he told Garfield. Locum tenens is a Latin term used in the medical field that literally means “holding the place of,” referring to doctors working as substitutes.

The regular supervising physician at the Lebec clinic since the summer of 2010 has been Dr. Robert Martinez.

“Dr. Martinez is an excellent doctor,” Diane Garfield said in an interview, “Very attentive, very observant. He listens to what you say…he has turned that clinic around.”

But while Dr. Martinez was away two years ago, Garfield took her son to the Lebec clinic twice, on November 9 with a sore throat and coughing, and again on Nov. 15, with concern that he was having a hard time breathing. She thought the six-foot teenager had the flu.

In an interview this week, Garfield said she asked the temp, Dr. Alvarado, about her son’s vomiting, congestion, fatigue, labored breathing and “a dark spot on the X-ray of his lungs.”

Garfield said she asked whether she should take her son to the hospital.

She alleges that Alvarado raised his voice to her—“he yelled at me,” she said—repeating to her forcefully that the boy’s lungs were “clear” and that she should not take him to the hospital.

“You can bring him in here [to the clinic] every day if you want to,” she reports the substitute doctor told her.

The next morning, Nov. 16, Garfield said Alvarado called to report that the results of her son’s blood test showed white blood cell abnormalities consistent with leukemia at an early stage. She said she made arrangements immediately for her teenager to be seen by a pediatric oncologist for the following day, Nov. 17.

“We were supposed to leave for the Children’s Hospital in Fresno at 8 a.m.,” Garfield said, recalling the morning of November 17 in the interview.  “He called to me as I was getting ready. He said he needed oxygen and to call 911.”

She recalls that her son’s “lips were blue; he had blackness under his eyes. He said he was having trouble with his vision.” She helped him to his bed and then he became unresponsive, shortly after 7 a.m.

The coroner’s investigator reports that the mother was providing CPR to her son when the paramedic from Kern County Fire Station 58 arrived. They and Hall Ambulance Service personnel used numerous methods, including entubation and strong stimulant drugs, but could not resuscitate the youth.

Leukemia is associated with suppressed immune function that can lead to opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, according to medical sources.

Dr. Rudolph C. Alvarado was contacted this week, Monday, April 8 at the Adventist Health Community Care in Parlier, CA (Fresno County) where he currently works. He confirmed he has served as a locum tenens doctor for Clinica Sierra Vista’s various sites about six times since 2009 and that he was serving at the Lebec clinic when Diane Garfield brought her son for attention. He was offered an opportunity to comment about Garfield’s allegations.

“I don’t need to reply. She is welcome to her feelings,” he said. “I don’t have any information about it here. I don’t get involved until they [Clinica Sierra Vista] tell me to get involved.”

He added that he was eager to get Anthony to the hospital after he saw the blood test results.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit is Edward Mizrahi of Encino, CA. The lawsuit filing spelled the defendant’s name “Alvardo,” but Mizrahi said that is an error that will be corrected.

Mizrahi said Clinica’s attorney called him after the lawsuit was served to say that Clinica is covered under the federal tort claim act (FTCA) rather than state jurisdiction, and that the suit must be re-filed in federal court. Mizrahi said in an interview that “in 52 years of practice” he had “never heard of such a thing.” He said he will not dismiss the state suit until he is assured that the Clinica attorney’s claim is accurate.

Calls to Clinica’s attorney and CEO Steve Shilling were not returned before we went to press. Voice mails were left with both inviting a call back.

Anthony’s brother and sister were also named in the suit as co-plaintiffs, along with his mother.

“I’m not against that clinic, there are some very good people there,” Garfield summarized. “This is about what that one doctor did and what went wrong and what happened to my son. He was a very good boy to me, a special kid who was very unselfish for a teenager. He was thoughtful. He made me cupcakes for my birthday and breakfast on Mother’s Day. He didn’t get into trouble. I want to be able to get him a tombstone.”


This is part of the April 05, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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