The legacy of the late comedienne Joan Rivers may be so much more than amusing memories and auctioned personal items if her daughter, Melissa, can help push through new laws governing oversight of outpatient surgical clinics.
Joan Rivers died Sept. 4, 2014, seven days after slipping into a coma after multiple doctors committed an apparent series of egregious errors during a medical procedure that went terribly wrong at Yorkville Endoscopy, an outpatient surgical clinic in Manhattan.
Melissa sued the doctors and the clinic for medical malpractice and in May, the suit was settled out of court for an award estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Currently, some 5,400 outpatient surgical clinics compete with hospitals nationwide for patients undergoing procedures that can include colonoscopies, oral surgery and some plastic surgeries. These types of clinics are popular with patients and doctors alike but oversight is murky at best.
In an interview with Fox News, Melissa said reform is long overdue.
“I am not saying we shouldn't have these ‘surgical centers,’" she said. “I do think these serve a really important purpose in dealing with medical costs and outpatient surgeries, and there are things that you do not need to be in a hospital for. But you need to know that you are going to get, that you are going to be safe.”
Although details of the settlement are sealed, the doctors agreed not to contest the suit's findings that read like a medical nightmare in the filed complaint and other public documents reviewed by FOX News. Melissa Rivers described it this way: "The complaint was very hard to read. Very, very hard to read."
Allegation 204 in the suit’s findings said Dr. Lawrence B. Cohen, then medical director of the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic, "took out his cellphone and took photos" of an unconscious Joan Rivers. Those selfies still shock Melissa who added, "You can't legislate good judgment or morality. I wish we could but you can't."
Dr. Gwen S. Korovin, an ear, nose and throat specialist, according to allegation #174 "had no right to perform a transnasal laryngoscopy on Joan Rivers." During the investigation, it was also revealed that Korovin did not have any privileges to perform any surgical procedure on anyone at the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic.
And when Rivers' throat seized up, the clinic did not follow the same emergency protocol required in hospitals.
Allegation #220 notes that Dr. Renuka Bankulla , an anesthesiologist who, according to the complaint, “failed to demand or request a crash cart be brought into the procedure room.”
Melissa emphasized that the crash cart would have had "the drugs that would have made a difference for my mom."
As the second anniversary of Rivers’ death looms, action for reform in New York state has gone nowhere.
Fox News spoke to two members of the legislature, State Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island. Both have tried to move bills forward with little success.
One of their proposals, a relatively toothless bill known as S. 5559 and A. 7525, would have simply required the Department of Health to prepare a report on the inspection of health facilities and clinics. It went nowhere.
“It’s really shameful,” Malliotakis told Fox News. “That something so serious, and something that has occurred almost two years ago is not yet being addressed.”
New York’s 239th legislative session ended June 16, during which, according to Malliotakis, they were “spending a lot of time debating nonsense.”
“We passed a resolution proclaiming the seventy-fifth anniversary of Cheerios. I mean, this is what we’re doing the final days of session when we have so many issues,” Malliotakis said.
Golden shared in Malliotakis’ criticism of their colleagues in the legislature. “You would imagine in the 21st century, in 2016, the greatest state in this great nation hasn’t been able to put this together yet? It's, it’s shocking,” Golden said.
As for the daughter of one of the world's most famous women, she is committed to see Joan's Law made into a reality.
"If I could snap my fingers, I absolutely would want to see it nationwide. Absolutely. I mean, I think I have the best chance of starting in, you know, in New York, in California, and I'll go from there. You know, I am noisy, I'll see what I can do. I can be really annoying. Ask my teenage son."
Melissa’s interview will air Sunday at 9 PM ET on Fox News Channel in the Fox News Reporting special "Beware! Danger at the Doctor."
Pamela K. Browne is Senior Executive Producer at the FOX News Channel (FNC) and is Director of Long-Form Series and Specials. Her journalism has been recognized with several awards. Browne first joined FOX in 1997 to launch the news magazine “Fox Files” and later, “War Stories.”