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Doctors' Hours Alarm New York

Doctors-in-training at 12 teaching hospitals are working hours that far exceed state law, the state Health Department found after a series of surprise visits.

The report, released Monday, found that more than one-third of physician residents worked more than 85 hours a week and one-fifth logged 95 hours or more, despite a nine-year-old law aimed at protecting patients from exhausted doctors.

State law mandates that physicians in hospital residency training programs work no more than 80 hours a week. None of the 12 hospitals studied were in compliance with New York State Hospital Code regulations on work hours.

"This is a major wake-up call to the hospitals themselves and to the public," said Barbara DeBuono, commissioner of the state health department. "We're very concerned, very disturbed about the findings."

In 1989, New York became the only state to place limits on the working hours for residents.

Ms. DeBuono said the heavy workload investigators found in hospitals in Buffalo, Rochester, New York City and on Long Island probably reflects a statewide problem. "There is no reason to believe these hospitals are exceptions to the rule," she said.

The study did not turn up any physician errors among the 291 overworked residents.

Susan Waltman, general counsel for the Greater New York Hospital Association, said many residents work long hours because the 80-hour ceiling is an "artificial hour limitation" and that "it is difficult for a professional" to leave work when a shift ends but there is more work to do.

No fines will be levied against the dozen hospitals that broke the law this time, but DeBuono said hospitals will be fined if they do not correct the problem.

By Timothy Williams