NY Health Commissioner Resigns Amid Abortion Clinic Inspection Controversy

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

Yesterday, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah announced he will resign. The news comes amidst the scandal breaking this week that the Department of Health failed to conduct regular inspects of abortions clinics in New York for more than a decade.


On Monday, the New York Post reported that 8 out of 25 abortion clinics subject to state inspection had not been inspected since 2000. This information was made public thanks to an information request filed by the Chiaroscuro Foundation.  An additional 5 clinics were only inspected once during that same time period.


The New York Department of Health released its first statement on the situation on Wednesday as well, claiming that the Department usually only inspects abortion clinics when it receives a complaint. They do not conduct inspections on a regular basis.


“The State Department of Health vigorously and aggressively investigates any and all allegations of physician misconduct, or complaints against a facility under its direct supervision,” stated DOH spokesman Bill Schwarz.  The Department of Health has announced it is planning to inspect the 25 abortion clinics within the coming days.


“It’s kind of scary. It lack of inspections is really quite frightening,” said Staten Island State Sen. Diane Savino, a pro-choice Democrat. Senator Savino added that restaurants and tanning salons are both inspected more rigorously than abortion clinics. In New York, restaurants are inspects annually and tanning salons are inspected bi-annually.


The Chiaroscuro Foundation has published online documents related to inspections that did take place of abortion clinics in New York.  These clinics did have complaints made against them and inspections carried out, sometimes over the course of several years, before they were finally given a satisfactory marking.


The documents expose some systemic problems in these clinics as well as, what can only be hoped are, unique ones.  Infection control is a big issue. The documents reveal issues with unhygienic conditions such as mold on the walls and one sink being used for hand washing, cleaning instruments, and waste disposals.  One report even cites discovery of a can of pesticide. When asked its purpose, the inspector was told “the product is used when exam rooms are contaminated with insects or parasites.”


The reports also cite issues with the staffing in these clinics. One clinic did not ensure that a registered nurse was present in the recovery room with patients who had just undergone an abortion. Another clinic did not have a licensed nurse present to assist during the abortion, having only a medical assistant present.  At the same clinic, informed consent for the abortion procedure was obtained by a medical assistant, not the physician as required by law.


Several of these clinics had problems maintaining basic medical records and, in more than one, fundamental fire safety standards were not met.  One clinic repeatedly failed to properly display the statement of patients’ rights.


The issue of abortion clinic inspections is not one that we can afford to ignore any longer.  Next month marks the first anniversary of the murder conviction of now infamous abortionist Kermit Gosnell.  Gosnell performed an unknown number of late term abortions and  convicted for murdering three babies after their births, as we all the involuntary manslaughter of one woman. He terribly abused his women clients while his “House of Horrors” clinic went without inspection for 17 years.


When the clinic was finally raided, it was described the Grand Jury report as “by far, the worst that these experienced investigators had ever encountered.” Had clinic inspections not been suspended in 1993 by pro-choice Republican Governor Tom Ridge, the tragedy in Philadelphia may never have occurred.


New York should take this opportunity to protect women and ensure health standards are kept high.  Women are entitled to hygienic conditions, trained health professionals, informed consent, and to knowledge of their rights as patients.  Abortion clinics must be held accountable and be regularly inspected to prevent another terrible tragedy such as the one in Philadelphia.


Nora Sullivan is  a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.


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