By Sabina Mollot
Over 30 members of the City Council are calling on hospitals to respect patients’ privacy, in response to the stunning case of a man who was struck by a truck only to then have his medical treatment and death filmed for an ABC reality show, “NY Med.”
The man was Mark Chanko, at one time a resident of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. His family, who never authorized any filming of his treatment, has sued the hospital, New York Presbyterian, and ABC. Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in September at the Court of Appeals.
While there is currently legislation pending at the state level that would prohibit hospitals filming patients without obtaining prior consent, the Council said it was asking hospitals to take that step voluntarily. The Council members wrote a letter that was sent to all New York hospitals asking them not to film patients or allow third parties to film patients for entertainment purposes. Or, if they do, the Council members said hospitals should at least make sure they get prior permission to do so.
The letter was also written in response to news that a reality show similar to “NY Med” would soon begin filming at a Boston hospital.
In the “NY Med” episode, Chanko’s face was blurred and his voice altered but those who knew him, including his widow Anita, recognized him immediately when she watched the show.
At a press conference at City Hall, she recalled how he’d asked, “Does my wife know I’m here?’ Whoever answered him said, ‘I don’t know.’” Since then, Anita said she’s had the segment featuring her husband pop up in her mind at unexpected moments. At these times, all of the evening’s events play out, starting from when her husband mentions wanting to run to the deli to pick up milk and bananas, to shortly afterwards, when the doorman at the couple’s building in Yorkville told Anita she needed to come downstairs, to then seeing Chanko lying in a gurney that she wasn’t allowed to get near.
“It’s a PTSD (experience),” Anita said. “It comes in unprompted. Watch a man die, now we’re going to sell you a car. Now we’re going to sell you some soap.”
When viewing the episode, which she said no one from the network or hospital warned her would be aired, she felt like she was reliving his death all over again. When the doctor told her and other family members that attempts to save Chanko were unsuccessful, he hadn’t told them he was wearing a microphone or that the conversation would be part of a show.
“We don’t want for this to happen to other people,” said Ken Chanko, Mark’s son, a teacher, who’s also a former film critic for Town & Village.
Council Member Dan Garodnick called shows like “NY Med” and its Boston spinoff, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” a “crude window into people’s medical care.
“Patients in our hospitals deserve to know that their sensitive moments will not be used for entertainment,” he said. “We deserve better from our medical institutions.”
Garodnick added that the Council will soon be issuing a report card for hospitals, “so you’ll know which hospitals will protect your privacy and which won’t.”
Last Thursday, Garodnick posted a petition on change.org calling on hospitals to not film patients. As of Monday it was signed over 500 times.
At the press conference, Council members also expressed their support for state legislation that would prevent future incidents like the one experienced by the Chankos.
Legislation that was authored by Assembly Member Edward Braunstein would create a private right of action for the unauthorized filming and broadcasting of hospital patients. It’s in the midst of some revising, though, with Braunstein explaining that the revisions were in response to broadcast associations’ concerns that some of the language was too vague. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to complete it next year,” said Braunstein, whose district is in Queens.
State Senator Liz Krueger, who’s co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there’s no way the presence of a TV camera wouldn’t impact the quality of patient care.
“(If a doctor says) ‘we need to get over there,’ and the director says, ‘We need a better shot over there’ — we’re not supposed to have that situation,” she said.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, another bill co-sponsor, added, “Shame on Dr. Oz and others for violating their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” Dr. Mehmet Oz is featured on “NY Med.”
A spokesperson for New York Presbyterian previously declined to comment on the Chankos’ litigation. A request for comment on the Council’s letter was referred to the Greater New York Hospital Association, whose president, Kenneth E. Raske, issued a statement indicating his agreement with the Council’s suggestions.
“Greater New York Hospital Association and its member hospitals agree that hospitals should not allow patients to be filmed for entertainment purposes without their prior consent,” Raske said. “Further, all New York hospitals take their legal obligations concerning patient privacy very seriously. Both New York State and federal law prohibit the use or disclosure of identifiable patient information without the prior consent of the patient or a suitable patient representative. New York’s hospitals will continue to vigorously safeguard the privacy of patients and their families.”