In Kermit Gosnell abortion case, ex-employees say clinic was horrific place

PHILADELPHIA — Former employees of a run-down West Philadelphia abortion clinic described a chaotic and horrific workplace under the direction of a 72-year-old doctor who is facing capital murder charges in the deaths of a patient and seven babies allegedly born alive.

In testimony during the past month at the capital murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, eight former employees said they performed grueling, often gruesome work for little more than minimum wage, paid by Gosnell under the table. Three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

Gosnell, once a gifted student in his working-class black neighborhood, had put his medical degree to work as a 1970s-era champion of drug treatment and legal abortions. But 30 years later, conditions inside his bustling clinic and his old neighborhood had deteriorated, according to trial testimony.

“Gosnell recklessly cut corners, allowed patients to choose their medication based on ability to pay, and provided abysmal care — all to maximize his profit,” prosecutors wrote in the 2011 grand jury report. “He was not serving his community. Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, motivated by greed.”

Unlicensed physician Stephen Massof, 50, of Pittsburgh, said he could not get a U.S. medical residency after finishing medical school in Grenada and went to work for Gosnell as a “backup plan” after six years of running a bar. He admitted killing two babies by snipping their necks, as he said Gosnell taught him to do. Massof has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

Eileen O’Neill, 56, had worked as a doctor in Louisiana but relinquished her medical license in 2000 to deal with “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” according to her 2011 grand jury testimony. She is the only employee on trial with Gosnell, fighting false billing and racketeering charges.

According to one colleague, O’Neill was increasingly upset at the line of people who came to Gosnell’s adjacent medical clinic for painkillers. However, O’Neill, like many others, stayed on at the clinic until a February 2010 drug raid, which was spawned by Gosnell’s high-volume distribution of Oxycontin and other painkillers.

Defense lawyer Jack McMahon said that no babies were born alive and unforeseen complications caused the overdose death of one woman.

“Just because the place was less than state-of-the-art doesn’t make him a murderer,” McMahon said in opening statements last month.

Front desk worker Tina Baldwin, like colleague Latosha Lewis, had trained to be a medical assistant at a vocational school before going to work for Gosnell in 2002. She handed out drugs at the front desk to induce labor, while Lewis helped perform ultrasounds, administer medications and deliver babies. Lewis worked from 10 a.m. until well after midnight, making $7 to $10 an hour. Baldwin now faces at least a year in prison, and perhaps much longer, after pleading guilty to federal drug charges and state charges that include corruption of a minor.

Two other clinic workers with family ties to Gosnell have pleaded guilty in the case but hope to get reduced terms in exchange for their cooperation. And Gosnell’s third wife, Pearl Gosnell, a licensed cosmetologist, pleaded guilty to performing illegal, late-term abortions.

The others involved include clinic workers Lynda Williams and Sherry West. Williams was hired to clean instruments but soon helped anesthetize patients, perform ultrasounds and carry out abortions, cutting babies in the back of the neck. She has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, which carries a 20- to 40-year prison sentence.

West, 53, had been a longtime surgical technician at the Veterans Administration but quit in 2007 after contracting Hepatitis C. A year later, still waiting on disability benefits, she went to work for Gosnell. West has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for administering drugs to the refugee from Bhutan who died of a drug overdose during a 2009 abortion.

— Associated Press

 
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