State starts inquiry into clinic’s work, 2/11/1998

Aware Woman’s patients sought emergency care

By Frank Oliveri, FLORIDA TODAY

MELBOURNE – A state agency is investigating why four women sought emergency treatment after getting abortions at the Aware Woman Center for Choice.

Complaints were filed by pro-life advocates who continually monitor the women’s clinic at Dixie Way and U.S. 1 in Melbourne.

The incidents took place over a 10-month period, with the most recent Jan. 31. Pro-life activists flied the complaints after each woman went to the emergency room, according to state documents. An investigation was initiated after the most recent complaint.

Patricia Baird-Windle, the clinic’s co-owner and chief executive officer, said this is another attempt to harass an abortion provider.

“Anti-abortion extremists at many locations across the United States and Canada exhibit a pattern of reporting every complication they can identify … to numerous agencies,” she said.

For the state Agency for Health Care Administration to move forward with an investigation, it must determine the allegations are legally sufficient to constitute a violation of the law.

“If it is substantial, what we do is go out and investigate and gather facts to prove or disprove an allegation,” said Charlene Willoughby, an agency spokeswoman.

“We will obtain records and interviews. We are required to do investigation, analysis and recommendations of probable cause within 180 days of receiving the complaint.”

Meredith Raney, a spokesman for Christians for Life, a pro-life group in Melbourne, helped file the complaints against Dr. William Egherman, who performs abortions at the clinic.

Raney said in some instances, members of Christians for Life followed ambulances from the clinic to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.

“I’m under the impression if something unusual happens during an operation that doctors are supposed to report it to the state,” Raney said. “We suspected they weren’t doing that, and we wanted to make sure the state knew about it.”

Baird-Windle said the law does not require that medical complications be reported to the state.

“My attorneys will be meeting (the state agency) in the regional office in Orlando next week,” she said.

Women were taken by ambulance to the hospital last year on March 29, July 4, Dec. 12. On Jan. 3l, Egherman took a woman to the emergency room in his car.

Baird-Windle refused to discuss the specific cases, citing medical confidentiality laws.

Baird-Windle said Egherman is a certified emergency room physician and, therefore, tends to be very conservative about medical treatment. She said she is confident the investigation will show no wrongdoing on his part.

Willoughby said the Agency for Health Care Administration investigates 40 percent to 50 percent of the hundreds of complaints it receives yearly. Of those medical complaints, only about 10 percent prove to be a violation.

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