Joan Rivers and the danger of surgical centers

A loved one who is facing an impending surgery told me today, that Joan Rivers’ death scared her.


Because it is a very visible example of that medical procedures come with very real and certain risks.  While my loved one however does appreciate the difference between a procedure done at a surgical center, and a surgery done at a level 1 university affiliated trauma center who is hopefully equipped and prepared to handle some of the known complications of various procedure.

But sadly, as injury attorneys, we see it all the time.

  • Infection develops from surgery done at surgical center.
  • Doctor at surgical center fails to appreciate risks and works on patient without sufficient cardiac workup
  • Surgical center fails to appreciate and order proper pre-op tests / etc.
  • Burns occur after malfunction in equipment at local surgical center
  • World famous comedian is denied oxygen and goes into cardiac arrest during simple procedure at local surgical center

So what is a surgical center, and how is it different than a hospital>

Well, most are very much like your doctor’s office. They may have specially trained people and some equipment, but they don’t have full and comprehensive services and providers available in an emergency. They aren’t held to the same legal standards by your state health department, require a less stringent license and as such, less oversight exists from state and federal government. In many states, they aren’t regulated or inspected at all – just as your doctor’s office isn’t. r

Yes, while it may be convenient to run in, get the procedure (steroid injection, liposuction, vocal chord scraping) done, there are some obvious benefits from having these very complicated procedures done at the hospital.

Her death, like all preventable deaths, is a tragedy. But we need to be advocates for better healthcare and sometimes that starts with equality in regulation. If your hospital has to be inspected by your state and local health department, shouldn’t the ambulatory care center down the street?

According to the NYTIMES – the NY health department is investigating the clinic. I am glad for that. But admit I doubt such an investigation would be announced so quickly if any other 81 year old had suffered this horrible loss.


where the former is not.


Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at