Did a Hospital Deliberately Place Patients at Risk to Retaliate against a Physician?

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Hospitals are gaining increasing power to control the practice of medicine, and the independent physician is increasingly disfavored in the “healthcare reform” environment. In the shocking case of orthopedic surgeon Raymond Long, M.D., patients were exposed to contaminated irrigation fluids provided by the hospital. The physician’s efforts to prevent further patient infections were thwarted by the hospital, and instead of hiring a forensic infectious disease expert to investigate, the hospital demanded that the physician obtain a psychiatric evaluation, writes Lawrence Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D. in the summer issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

In 2002, Dr. Long announced plans to add an MRI machine in his office. “At the time, he alleges, Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, Vermont, was involved in ‘an illegal kickback scheme with respect to X-ray facilities’ and was planning to have a new MRI machine built for its facilities,” reported VTDigger.org.

The hospital settled the case with the federal government for a mere $30,000. A press release praised the hospital for its good faith voluntary disclosure, but Long claimed that the hospital disclosed its illegal conduct only because a lawsuit that he had commenced in 2005 was likely to reveal the scheme.

In 2003 to 2004, Dr. Long’s patients, for the first time, began to experience “life-and-limb-threatening post-surgical infections” after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery, with rare organisms, according to information Long provided to Huntoon. A former CDC infection outbreak investigator determined that the irrigation fluids the hospital supplied for surgery to be performed by Dr. Long had been deliberately contaminated.

In an Amended Complaint (Sep 28, 2006), Long alleged that the CEO of the hospital, Peter A. Hofstetter, demanded that he resign. According to the Amended Complaint, “When Dr. Long refused to resign, Defendant Hofstetter angrily asked Dr. Long, ‘Aren’t you afraid of me?’”

The lawsuit filed by Long in 2005 eventually settled in 2008 for $4 million, and shortly thereafter CEO Peter A. Hofstetter moved on to a new job as CEO of Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, New Mexico, and, according to Dr. Long, subsequently to Willamette Valley Medical Center in McMinnville, Oregon.

In the words of Long’s 2006 Amended Complaint, Defendants engaged in “extreme and outrageous conduct, which…may be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”
The results of the Long case are likely to discourage physicians from speaking out about unethical or dangerous behavior by hospitals, Huntoon concludes.

The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943.

Download Article: http://www.jpands.org/vol20no2/huntoon.pdf

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