FREMONT — The doctor who spearheaded a documentary critical of Washington Hospital is facing five allegations of providing incompetent medical care.
Dr. Evelyn Li, who helped fund and produce the movie "Life for Sale," could lose her physician's and surgeon's certificate if the state medical board sustains the charges in a complaint stemming from her work at Washington and St. Rose hospitals.
The movie, which ran for a week last month at Cinedome 8 Fremont, contends that many hospitals discharge patients still in need of care, and as part of their profit-motivated policy, retaliate against doctors who challenge early discharges.
It also asserts that federal law makes it difficult for doctors to defend themselves against retaliatory peer reviews initiated by hospital administrators.
Although Li said the problems were widespread, nearly all of the film's allegations were directed at Washington Hospital.
Li, who was listed only as the film's medical consultant, since has acknowledged that she is CEO of The Orb, the company that produced the film. She also acknowledged Friday that The Orb's president, Alexander Cheung, and the film's director, Kimberli Zhou, are her children.
Since last month's debut screening, two Washington Hospital doctors who were interviewed for the film have said that their statements were taken out of context, while a third Washington doctor interviewed (see sidebar) said the hospital has retaliated against him for his participation.
Meanwhile, 276 hospital nurses have signed a petition stating that they no longer are willing to work with Li and the three other Washington doctors interviewed, hospital CEO Nancy Farber said at a recent board meeting.
Robert Marth, a California Nurses Association state board director, said that nurses complained to him of feeling pressured to sign the petition.
"This administration is very retaliatory, very punitive, very aggressive to the point that you would think you were in Nazi Germany," he said.
Washington nurse Lynda Antes countered that she drafted the petition and let it circulate several weeks ago after a protest outside the hospital.
"I wanted to make a stand that the nurses of the hospital didn't agree with their movie," she said.
Washington Board President Mike Wallace called Li "a problem child."
"I think what has happened with this movie is it's disrupted the teamwork of Washington Hospital that has been the hallmark of its existence over the last 50 years," he said.
Although he hasn't seen the movie, Wallace said he doesn't take any stock in it.
"From what I've heard about it, it seems like a self-serving attempt by Dr. Li to get back for the discipline that she received."
On July 2, the state attorney general's office filed a complaint against Li, listing five allegations of improper care. A hearing is scheduled for early next year, Li said.
In one allegation from March 26, 2003, Li is accused of putting a patient's life at risk by failing to see the patient "in a timely manner" and not promptly arranging "either an emergency angioplasty at St. Rose or the transfer of the patient to Summit Hospital for further treatment."
A separate allegation stemming from April 8, 2005, accuses Li of performing "a cardiac catheterization ... when it was not medically necessary" and inaccurately interpreting the angiogram results.
Li, who won't respond to the specific allegations until after her hearing, said the complaint was based on hospital findings that were retaliatory.
"When I stood up for patients, that's when they did that to me," she said.
Li provided data showing that from 1999 through July 12, 2005, her patients' average length-of-stay was longer than the average for cardiologists and that her inpatient mortality rate was 0.225, compared to an average for cardiologists of 1.951.
Two doctors interviewed in the movie, Ajit Sandhu, former chief of medical staff at Washington,, and Bhupinder Bhandari, chief-elect of the hospital medical staff, have issued a joint statement stating that they didn't know of the "contents or the intent of this movie prior to our interviews.
"Our general comments about health care issues were taken out of context in this documentary which regretfully conveyed a negative impression about the care we provide at Washington Hospital," they wrote.
Neither doctor agreed to be interviewed further.
In the documentary, Sandhu said hospital administrators hire nurses to review cases and push them to approve early discharges.
"That happens all the time," he said.
He also said that doctors who abide by hospital policies are financially rewarded.
The hospital has released a statement denying both charges.
It also said that it does not discharge patients too early for economic reasons, pressure physicians to release patients too early, overpay CEO Farber, or retaliate against doctors, including Li.
The statement did not refute the specific allegations made by the families of patients regarding poor care at the hospital.