New York Post reporter Susan Edelman revealed on January 4 the name of the unfortunate anesthesiologist allegedly present on August 28 at Yorkville Endoscopy, during the throat procedure that led to the death of comedian Joan Rivers. She is reported to be Renuka Reddy Bankulla, MD, 47, a board-certified anesthesiologist from New Rochelle, NY.
Having her name made public will be a nightmare for Dr. Bankulla, as investigators will certainly target her role in Ms. Rivers’ sedation and the management — or mismanagement — of her resuscitation.
When the news of Ms. Rivers’ cardiac arrest and transfer to Mt. Sinai Hospital became public, many of us guessed that there might have been no qualified anesthesia practitioner — either anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist — present during the case. The gastroenterologist and then medical director of the clinic, Dr. Lawrence Cohen, argued famously that the sedative propofol, which Ms. Rivers received, could be safely given by a registered nurse under his supervision, and that no anesthesiologist is necessary.
However, with the publication of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) report of September 5, it became clear that an anesthesiologist was definitely present. The anesthesiologist was identified only as “Staff #2” in the report. She was interviewed by the CMS surveyors four days after the event, but said she was “advised by her legal representative not to discuss the case.”
Key pieces of information about what happened still haven’t been made public. Nonetheless, the surveyors gathered enough information to reach this conclusion: “The physicians in charge of the care of the patient failed to identify deteriorating vital signs and provide timely intervention during the procedure.”
By any standard of care, the anesthesiologist clearly would be one of the physicians in charge.