Lawsuit blames uninsured man's doctors at UPMC Mercy for his death

| Thursday, June 27, 2013, 12:45 p.m.

Doctors at UPMC Mercy treated an uninsured Hill District man's digestive disease for 15 months, but balked at performing a surgery that would have saved his life, his wife and his estate's attorney alleged Thursday.

“This is all because we didn't have insurance,” said Robin Tillman, 49, of Brookline whose husband Dorian Tillman, 40, died on Dec. 16, 2011. “We were looking for it. We just couldn't afford it.”

Tillman, a minister at Christian Fellowship Center on the North Side, was diagnosed with diverticulitis, a common disease in which small pouches form in the large intestine or colon. He died when one of the pouches burst, sending intestinal waste into his abdomen.

The lawsuit filed on Thursday claims the hospital and Drs. Andrew Shinabarger, John R. Whiteford, Jessica I. Summers and Brett Beel were negligent for not adequately treating Tillman, not fully considering his medical history and for contributing to his death. Shinabarger, Summers and Beel could not be reached for comment. Whiteford did not return a call.

“We extend our sympathies to the family. We deny the allegations,” said UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko. UPMC declined further comment.

Attorney Jason E. Luckasevic filed the lawsuit amid challenges to UPMC's tax-exempt status, including a lawsuit by the city of Pittsburgh. Lawmakers and union officials have accused the health care giant of caring more about its bottom line than helping patients. In 2012, UPMC reported a $220.7 million profit.

UPMC responded to criticism with a vigorous marketing campaign, touting its $100 million commitment to the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and $238 million in uncompensated and charitable care it listed in financial statements in 2012.

Luckasevic said he did not know why doctors would treat Tillman for more than a year but delay the surgery. He said antibiotics are used to treat acute diverticulitis, but only surgery can cure the more advanced stage Tillman had.

Robin Tillman, a certified nursing assistant, admonished the hospital for delaying the “phantom surgery.”

“They kept putting it off, putting it off,” she said.

The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospital emergency departments to screen every patient who seeks care and to stabilize or transfer those with emergencies regardless of whether they can pay or have health insurance, said Elaine Salter, a spokeswoman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

If an emergency condition exists, treatment must be provided until it's resolved or stabilized, Salter said. Hospitals and physicians who violate the law are subject to $50,000 fine per violation.

According to the complaint:

During Tillman's first visit on Sept. 2, 2010, a doctor wrote that Tillman was diagnosed with diverticulitis at UPMC McKeesport, but did not undergo treatment because he could not afford it. Instead, he had a CT scan, doctors prescribed medicine and he was discharged.

On four subsequent visits between Dec. 14, 2010, and Aug. 23, 2011, doctors treated and discharged Tillman, often giving him a prescription for pain.

On Dec. 14, 2011, Tillman went to UPMC Mercy's Emergency Department complaining of severe abdominal pain. Doctors admitted him to a non-monitored bed for further evaluation after they assessed his vital signs and took a CT scan of his abdomen and pelvis. Shortly after 10 p.m. an order to notify a doctor of his vital signs was discontinued.

On Dec. 15, a doctor wrote in Tillman's chart that he “may benefit from elective (surgery).” A surgeon canceled a CT scan ordered the day before, but wrote that if his condition deteriorated, he would need surgery. His vitals were last checked at 4 p.m. on Dec. 15.

Tillman died about 3 a.m. on Dec. 16 at the hospital.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-9027 or

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