MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee-area emergency room doctor has been charged with child abuse, but he claims it was a result of an "out of control" system, according to a new report from NBC News Investigative Reporter Mike Hixenbaugh.
Dr. John Cox is a pediatric emergency room doctor at Children's Wisconsin.
In an interview with NBC News, Cox said he had accidentally fallen asleep when cuddling with his 1-month-old adopted daughter, waking up to her cries. Cox said he had assessed the child and believed he might have broken her collarbone, which is a common injury among infants. Cox called his wife, Dr. Sadie Dobrozsi, who was out of town. Though the infant didn't seem to be in distress, and Cox later learned the infant's collarbone was not broken, Dobrozsi told him to take the child to see her pediatrician as a precaution.
According to NBC News' reporting, this decision would lead to a series of medical mistakes and misstatements by hospital staff that would ultimately lead to Child Protective Services taking the 1-month-old.
"In hindsight, taking her to our own hospital was the single most harmful decision that we made for our baby," said Cox to NBC News.
According to a criminal complaint, on May 9, Cox had taken the child to be evaluated by Dr. Al Pomeranz. Pomeranz had noticed bruising on the child's body and raised a concern for abuse. The child was evaluated by several hospital personnel who determined there was bruising that did not line up with what Cox said happened to the child.
"In summary, there is no medical explanation for [the child's] injuries other than trauma," the complaint said.
But according to Cox and Dobrozsi, there were several mistakes made by staff during the process. They told NBC News that a nurse practitioner confused the baby's birthmarks for bruises, and a child abuse practitioner misinterpreted a crucial blood test. The family said more than 15 medical experts disputed the hospital's report.
Despite this, the state placed the child in foster care.
If convicted of the child abuse charges, Cox could face up to six years in prison.
Cox and Dobrozsi told NBC News that they plan on fighting the charges and eventually use their experience to advocate for other families accused of abuse based on "bad medicine."
Both the Milwaukee County district attorney who brought the charges and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families declined to comment. The district attorney cited a temporary gag order that was issued at his request just hours after a reporter reached out to him to ask for an interview, according to NBC News.
Children's Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin released the following statement:
The charges filed against Dr. John M. Cox do not involve care he provided to any Children’s Wisconsin patient. He has not seen patients since the allegations were first made and is no longer employed by MCW.
Given that Dr. Cox is involved in an ongoing legal matter, we cannot comment on his case.
Prevention of child abuse and neglect is core to Children’s mission of caring for kids. We take seriously our responsibility to protect children and take action on their behalf. As a health care organization dedicated to quality, Children’s will review the practices of the Child Advocacy and Protection Service to ensure it remains one of the leading programs in the country.
Child abuse is a serious, life-threatening issue both in Wisconsin and throughout the country. In 2018 alone, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families reported nearly 5,000 cases of abuse and or neglect, as well as associated deaths in young children and infants under the age of one. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families website indicates that in 2018, fifty percent (50%) of deaths were in children under age 1.
The Child Advocacy and Protection Service at Children’s Wisconsin is part of a broader system designed to protect children by detecting, preventing and treating abuse and neglect. The hospital-based Child Advocacy team is a multidisciplinary group of medical professionals and social workers who provide consultation on suspected child maltreatment cases. The Wisconsin Child Protection Services agency determines whether investigations are warranted.
A judge ordered all parties in the case to not make public comments regarding the victim's medical records or child protective services record.
In an internal memo sent to employees, shared with TMJ4, said Children's would investigate concerns raised by the NBC story.
The NBC News story reported concerns about the practices of child abuse pediatricians, both nationally and in our system. We remain confident in our child advocacy work. Our program is reviewed and accredited by the National Children’s Alliance and is considered one of the leading programs in the country. This program follows the same standards of care as all medical programs at Children’s Wisconsin, including standard peer review of cases and blinded review when warranted. It is included in our Enterprise Quality Plan, and it is subject to the governance of the Quality Committee of the Board of Directors, as well as all of the standards of our medical staff.
That said, as a health care organization dedicated to quality, we believe it critically important that we honestly and transparently investigate the concerns raised in the NBC story and we will do so. Equally important, we have well-established processes for employees and providers to share concerns confidentially, at any time, on any issue
Read the entire NBC News story on Cox and Dobrozsi here.
Read the complaint below: