Malpractice complaints against former Duluth neurosurgeon not listed on board siteIn November 2006, the News Tribune requested, under state and federal open records laws, “any and all documents containing or relating to complaints made to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice about Stefan Joseph Konasiewicz, M.D.”
In November 2006, the News Tribune requested, under state and federal open records laws, “any and all documents containing or relating to complaints made to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice about Stefan Joseph Konasiewicz, M.D.”
The board responded promptly and rejected the request, citing state privacy statutes. It also neither confirmed nor denied the existence of any complaints against the neurosurgeon then practicing at Duluth’s St. Luke’s hospital.
But years earlier, Ellen Abare of Duluth filed a malpractice suit against Konasiewicz, records of which would have been readily available to the state medical board.
In 2001, Abare was a fourth-year medical student at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth when she went to Konasiewicz for what she said she understood would be a routine procedure to alleviate pain in her right forearm from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Instead, Abare claims, Konasiewicz removed a piece of nerve in her right wrist. She has been left permanently disabled, according to court records. She sued in 2003 and obtained a settlement, but the amount isn’t listed in either the court file or on the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice website, which does not list malpractice suits against physicians.
Konasiewicz would be sued nine times in Minnesota, settling seven of those cases, including twice for accusations that he caused the deaths of patients. Juries decided in his favor in two cases.
In only one case was a settlement amount made public, when the family of 56-year-old Dianne Baumgardner won about $355,000 and as part of the settlement wanted that number in the court file.
“I just wanted (Konasiewicz) stopped,” said Baumgardner’s husband, Fred.
Many of the other settlements are listed in the National Practitioner Databank, a federal registry of all of the malpractice settlements and disciplinary actions taken against health-care providers over the last 20 years.
However, a public-use file that lists those settlements and shields provider names was removed last year by the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the Databank, over concerns that it was being used to identify physicians.
The HRSA republished the data in November but restricted access to it by forcing people to sign a waiver that would prevent them from using the records with other data to identify physicians.
Several journalism organizations have come out against those restrictions, but they remain in place.
Before those restrictions were enacted, the News Tribune used the data to discover that Konasiewicz had settled malpractice cases for more than $3.2 million; however, that amount is likely higher, as two of those settlements have come since accessibility of the public-use file was limited.
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice eventually sanctioned Konasiewicz in 2010, following receipt of a letter by Don Kundel, a St. Louis County medical examiner, asking the board to investigate to determine “if Dr. Konasiewicz is incompetent or reckless.”