Patient sues over HIV test mistake

An Owings Mills woman is suing Maryland General Hospital for $2 million, claiming that the Baltimore hospital "derailed my life" by inaccurately telling her she was HIV-positive.

Robyn Joynes-Carey, 35, filed the suit Wednesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, alleging that the hospital was negligent.

Hospital spokesman Lee Kennedy called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said in a statement that the allegations against the hospital were false.

"The hospital will defend [itself] vigorously," he said.

Maryland General said this is the first lawsuit by a patient alleging false test results since state regulators found this year that the hospital's laboratory had sent out hundreds of potentially inaccurate HIV and hepatitis test results.

The lab scandal prompted state and federal investigations, congressional hearings and the resignation of the hospital's chief executive officer. New CEO Colene Y. Daniel is scheduled to start next week.

"I was devastated," Joynes-Carey said yesterday about how she felt last August when her gynecologist told her that she had tested positive for HIV based on results from Maryland General's laboratory.

She said she became depressed and didn't want to live with the thought of developing AIDS. Unable to concentrate, she said, she quit her job as a Baltimore health inspector and was dropped from Morgan State University's master's program in public health for failing to meet academic standards.

Joynes-Carey cried as she explained that her relationship with her teenage daughter also suffered. "My body was there," she said, "but literally I just wasn't there."

In March, after The Sun reported that the hospital had distributed potentially faulty test results, Joynes-Carey's gynecologist's office called to say that retesting of her blood revealed that the lab had made a mistake and that she was not HIV-positive, the suit said.

But in an unusually lengthy statement, Maryland General's Kennedy offered a different version of events.

Maryland General, he said, did send Joynes-Carey's physician a test report on July 31 last year showing that her initial HIV test was positive. But Kennedy said the report informed the doctor not to presume that his patient had HIV based on this one test, which was considered an initial screening.

The report sent to the physician instead said the hospital would send her specimen to an outside laboratory to confirm the finding, a standard procedure for a positive test. The hospital sent the specimen to a state health department laboratory.

Maryland General said it could not disclose the results of tests done there for patient confidentiality reasons. But it said those test results were sent to Joynes-Carey's personal physician by Maryland General last August.

"At no time did MGH ever diagnose Ms. Joynes-Carey as having HIV," Kennedy said.

Joynes-Carey, who is represented by attorney Marvin Ellin, said she now works as a grants compliance monitor with the public school system in Washington. She said she also has been accepted back into Morgan State, though she intends to enroll in a Johns Hopkins University leadership development program instead.

"Ultimately, it's the pain and the stress," she said about why she decided to sue. "It derailed my life."