By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
More Trouble With Harry
DR. HARRY A. JOHNSON JR., a prominent Edina cosmetic surgeon who was the subject of a City Pages cover story last summer ("The Trouble With Harry," July 1, 1998), has been made to take his medicine. This past March, following a probe by its complaint-review committee, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice found that Johnson was remiss in his care of eight former patients (several of whose travails were recounted in last year's City Pages story), and that he engaged in false and misleading advertising practices by misrepresenting his credentials in Yellow Pages ads.
Highlights from some of the cases the committee examined:
* In 1990, 16 years after Johnson performed breast-augmentation surgery on her, one patient was treated for breast cancer. Though the woman had previously worried aloud to Johnson that the lumps she had noticed in her breasts might be cancer, the reviewers found "no documentation that [Johnson] performed a physical examination of her breasts, that he discussed pursuing any pathologic diagnosis, or that he had any discussion with her regarding the possibility that these masses were related to breast cancer."
* After a 1989 face-lift, another of Johnson's patients experienced scarring, an "altered sensation" in her cheeks, and a deformity of the hairline behind both ears. The patient, Janice Dircks, sued, and in 1993 she was awarded more than $279,000 in damages when a jury found that Johnson had failed to disclose the risks associated with the surgery. In investigating the case, the committee found that Johnson had also suggested an inappropriate treatment for the scarring.
* Another patient sued in 1992, accusing Johnson of performing a tummy tuck when she'd only agreed to a procedure to repair scars from previous cesarean deliveries. While she was under sedation on the operating table, Shelly Armstrong alleged, Johnson told her that the surgery would be a little more complicated than he'd anticipated and would cost an additional $3,000, which she was required to pay--right then and there. Though Johnson denied the allegations, a Hennepin County jury in 1995 awarded Armstrong nearly $90,000.
In every one of the cases they examined, spanning from 1974 to 1994, the committee noted that Johnson had kept insufficient records of pre- and postoperative care and seemingly failed to adequately apprise his patients of possible complications from the surgical procedures they were contemplating. The board reprimanded the 64-year-old surgeon for five instances of false advertising from 1991 to 1995 and ordered him to pay $17,400 to help defray the costs of the investigation. Additionally, he must take a medical record-keeping course, as well as a course in clinician-patient communication. And finally, he is required to meet regularly with a supervisor--a board-certified surgeon who will review his dealings with every patient and who may attend any surgeries Johnson performs.
Rather than submit to an administrative hearing, a procedure similar to a civil trial, Johnson agreed to abide by the conditions of the board's order, which is to remain in effect for a minimum of three years. In 2002 he may petition for reinstatement to an unconditional license.
The complaint-review committee's acting supervisor Ruth Martinez declined to elaborate on the order or to say whether Johnson has been in compliance. Johnson's attorney Robert Frazee says the order speaks for itself. "The way we resolved this was to have other surgeons review Dr. Johnson's records for the next three years, to make sure his record-keeping is consistent with local practice," says Frazee. "The case had been going on for four or five years, some of these complaints were twenty-five years old, and Dr. Johnson felt it was best to resolve it this way." Frazee points out that Johnson changed his advertising five years ago, and adds that by the time the doctor signed the order, he'd completed the courses it required. "I think it's very important to note that none of these claims dealt with Dr. Johnson's skills and medical techniques," the attorney asserts. "No one was criticizing his surgical skills."
Late last year Johnson settled the federal suit he'd filed against CBS and its local affiliate WCCO-TV (Channel 4) in connection with a 1993 segment that station aired. Terms of the settlement were confidential. Another court action mentioned in last summer's cover story is still pending, but barely. The suit, filed by a former Johnson patient named John Paulos, alleged that the doctor had engaged in fraud by misrepresenting his credentials. In May a judge ruled that the matter had exceeded the statute of limitations, but Paulos appealed. A decision is expected by the end of next month.
Starting From Scratch
OFF BEAT WENT SANS DEET to the Basilica Block Party last weekend, after Cities 97 ballyhooed it as a "mosquito-free event." In the wake of our recent skeeter story ("Love Stings," June 30), we wanted to know exactly what prompted the Basilica folks to offer such a guarantee. Imagine our horror when we called publicist Jennifer McNamara of Tunheim Santrizos, who revealed that the claim was totally bogus. "The mosquito-free promos were, you know, just promos, something the Cities had done on their own," says McNamara. "The mosquito was the narrator, there was the Jaws theme, people slapping the mosquitoes. I wouldn't go as far as saying it was a lie--the mosquito was the narrator, so it was obvious that it was a joke." Pause. "We don't spray much [for mosquitoes], if at all. But we've never had any problems with mosquitoes anyway."
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