Google New Hires!

June 20th, 2005 by

If you were to Google the name “Dr. Jayant Patel,” you would find over 20,000 references going back a number of years. The more recent entries are undoubtedly the most alarming. “Dr. Death” has been implicated in the demise of 87 patients at a municipal hospital in Bundaberg, Australia. He has become infamous for not washing his hands between surgeries, for failing to use anesthesia during surgery and perhaps most famously, for performing a colostomy backwards (I’m not sure what that would look like, and I don’t really want to know). If you do take a few moments to google his name, you would be more diligent in researching the doctor than were his previous employer and the executive recruitment firm that brought him to Australia. Therein lies our tale.
Bundaberg is a farming community on the eastern coast of Australia, just south of the Great Barrier Reef. They are famous for “Bundy Rum” — an alcoholic beverage that presumably bears no relationship to the star of the dubious sitcom, “Married with Children.” The local municipal hospital was delighted to find a former professor of surgery at the State University of New York who was willing to relocate to Australia. Unfortunately, his tenure down under was not unlike his work in Oregon and New York. He had been suspended in New York and his license had been revoked in Oregon, where he had once worked for Kaiser Permanente.
Whistleblower Blown Off
One of the striking aspects of the story as presented in the New York Times (registration required) involves the head nurse at the hospital, Toni Ellen Hoffman. She continuously raised her concerns about Dr. Patel’s performance with hospital administrators, only to be told that she had a “personality problem.” After a particularly shocking incident, where a 9 year old girl watched her father die through Patel’s neglect, the nurse requested an inquiry. The administration’s response? They named Patel as the employee of the month!
Finally, as the result of a legislative inquiry, Dr. Patel’s name was published in a paper. An enterprising reporter Googled the name and the scandal finally exploded. Dr. Patel fled the country, returning to Oregon where he lives in a mansion and appears to be unenthusiastic about returning to Australia, where he could face charges of homicide.
Management Lessons
We often talk about the potential negligence involved in hiring and entrusting incompetent or dangerous people to carry out their responsibilities. Here we certainly have a case of negligence in hiring: the hospital in Bundaberg was so excited to find a credentialed foreigner willing to join their staff, they did not look beyond the documents he presented about himself. As we have seen, a simple Google search would have exposed Patel as both incompetent and dangerous.
In addition, Patel carried letters of reference from several of his Oregon colleagues. These letters were provided after his termination for cause; the doctors who wrote them are likely to find themselves involved in the many lawsuits that are going to come out of this situation, under the legal concept of “negligent reference.” Then again, perhaps the colleague who described Patel as “above average” has a very low opinion of the average doctor!
Beyond these examples of negligence, hospital administrators really messed up when they failed to respond to the alarms raised by a trusted member of the staff. The administration went into a denial mode that will severely compound their negligence in hiring: it’s bad enough to drop the ball on reference checking, but far more serious to ignore the evidence right in front of your eyes. The lawyers will have a field day.
Some are calling Patel a psychopath. Others think he is simply incompetent. The bottom line is that he did not belong in any operating room, anywhere in the world, including one in a relatively remote town on the shores of Australia. With the advent of the internet, the HR folks in Australia had access to the same data available in New York City. So here’s our advice: google new hires. It doesn’t cost anything, it only takes a few moments, and it might save you a whole lot of pain, suffering and trouble.

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