State College

State College doctor was distracted by criminal investigation during surgery, lawsuit claims

Mount Nittany Medical Center on June 17, 2016.
Mount Nittany Medical Center on June 17, 2016. Centre Daily Times, file

A State College doctor who was charged in 2017 with writing prescriptions to a woman who was not his patient now faces a lawsuit alleging negligence with a former patient.

The lawsuit — filed April 26 by Cynthia Greenberg on behalf of her late husband, Michael Greenberg — stems from Greenberg’s total left knee replacement, subsequent treatments and procedures at both University Orthopedics Center and Mount Nittany Medical Center in 2017.

Greenberg met with former UOC orthopedic surgeon Kenneth Cherry in April 2017 for the surgery. He developed an infection after the procedure and another was scheduled for June 2017, according to the lawsuit.

The day of that procedure, however, agents from the state attorney general’s office executed a search warrant on Cherry relating to impending criminal charges surrounding his prescription practices. Despite the appearance by the attorney general’s office, Cherry continued with the surgery, according to the lawsuit.

“This distraction caused (Cherry) to implant so much cement in Greenberg’s knee that the cement subsequently extruded from the skin causing the wound to dehisce,” the lawsuit states.

Attorney Tracey Benson, who represents both Cherry and UOC, said he did not know the timing of the events.

“I would be surprised if any surgeon would have a poor outcome based on something like that happening. I don’t think they would,” Benson said.

Cherry was accused of writing 63 prescriptions for a woman whom he had a personal and sexual relationship with. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of failing to keep records of a distributed controlled substance and was sentenced in October 2017 to 1.5 years of probation, fines and one day of community service.

That same month, the Pennsylvania Department of State also suspended his license for at least 30 months.

Greenberg’s struggles continued after the procedure and he was eventually admitted to a Geisinger Medical Center emergency room in an effort to salvage his knee, according to the lawsuit.

Those attempts were unsuccessful, and Greenberg’s lower left leg was amputated in August 2017, according to the lawsuit.

“While recovering from the amputation at his home, Greenberg lost his airway and was unable to physically call out for help. He was found (dead) by his wife on the floor hallway between his chair and the table where his mobile phone was charging,” the lawsuit said. “Greenberg was unable to reach his phone in time to call for help because of the loss of his leg.”

Cynthia Greenberg is suing Cherry, UOC and MNMC Health Services for one count of negligence and recklessness, while MNMC is being sued for two counts of the same. She requested a jury trial and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Greenberg previously had a MRSA infection that was treated with antibiotics, but MNMC physicians did not administer an antibiotic before the surgery, according to the lawsuit.

Greenberg family attorney Robert Englert declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it’s his practice not to discuss pending litigation.

MNMC and MNMC Health Services attorney Brian Bluth did not respond to requests for comment. Communications coordinator Anissa Ilie said the hospital is unable to comment at this time, as is their standard practice with any legal issue.

“In all surgeries and medical procedures, some patients will have an outcome that is not what either they or the health care provider had hoped would occur,” Benson said. “Under Pennsylvania law, an unfavorable outcome ... is not negligence. There has to be something done that deviated from ... the standard of care by the surgeon or the other health care provider. At this point, I don’t know if that is the case or not.”

He also vouched for Cherry, calling him an “excellent and skilled” surgeon who has helped thousands of people.

“If you looked at everybody, you’d have some cases that were not optimal outcomes (and) you’d have other people who swear by the surgery and the outcome they achieved,” Benson said. “Beyond that, it’s hard to say until you wade into the weeds of a particular medical case and find out what happened.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.