The director of a major department at Harbor Hospital Center, alleging he was fired without reason and due process from his $120,000- a-year position, today filed a $14 million suit against the hospital in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Dr. Victor R. Hrehorovich, 51, contends that he was arbitrarily dismissed as head of the department of medicine by the former South Baltimore General Hospital, contrary to medical staff bylaws that assure department heads tenure until they are 65 after they have passed a two-year trial period. He had held the post for 15 years.
Hrehorovich, a Harvard Medical School graduate, also heads the hospital's internal medicine residency program and is chief of the intensive care unit. A year ago the hospital's more than 200 doctors elected him to a two-year term as chairman of the medical staff and chairman of the medical executive committee.
The suit seeks $3.5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million for punitive damages because the Harbor Hospital Center and L. Barney Johnson, its chief executive officer, terminated the doctor's employment "on purpose," according to Steven M. Nemeroff, who represents Hrehorovich.
"Their intent was solely to quash the reporting of poor medical practice, reduced medical practice and access to medical service," the attorney said. "This was not something they did accidentally or negligently. This was by design."
The termination of the doctor's employment and tenure on April 17 was also meant to quash a "no confidence" vote against Johnson and the hospital before it could go before the full medical staff membership on April 18, Nemeroff, a partner in a Washington law firm, contends.
Earlier, a "no confidence" vote had been cast unanimously by members of the medical executive committee. It had been based, the suit alleges, upon the hospital's and Johnson's "irresponsible policies and numerous deficiencies" in providing quality health care to patients at the hospital.
As far back as February, the suit papers allege, the medical staff had voiced its concerns about the financial and administrative policies of the hospital, an inadequate number of nurses, high turnover in administrative support staff, untimely delays in X-ray and laboratory reporting and unsatisfactory access to emergency room service.
The medical staff also was disturbed about "a confrontational administrative style" and the use of non-profit hospital resources for outside for-profit ventures "which would negatively impact the quality of health service," the suit says.
These were not specifically alluded to in the suit, but, according to Nemeroff, the hospital established a holding company and a hospital foundation that allegedly financed several for-profit business ventures.
One of these included a pharmacy which was opened about two blocks away from the hospital that patients were directed to use. At the pharmacy, Nemeroff said, they paid marked up prices when they could have purchased medicines at the hospital more reasonably.
In a letter to Johnson, dated July 25 and obtained by The Evening Sun, Dr. Marvin Schneider, chairman of the council of the state medical society, said, "The faculty [state medical society] protests the unilateral actions taken by the administration of Harbor Hospital Center and its non-compliance with the properly and legitimately adopted hospital medical staff's bylaws."
As a result of the review by the council -- a governing body of the state medical society -- the following policy statement was unanimously approved: "When a hospital has established, through the negotiation and adoption of medical staff bylaws, specific procedures . . . it cannot then unilaterally avoid following these procedures."
Nemeroff said the doctor still has not been given a reason for his dismissal as head of the department of medicine and he has had no response to a request for reinstatement.
The suit alleges the hospital and Johnson violated the hospital's employee policy manual, which permits discharge for just cause only, as well as the hospital's bylaws.
Johnson was unavailable for comment. But, Clark E. Jeunette, the hospital spokesman, said, "The board of trustees still feels the action they took was proper within their authority. I'm talking about the hospital's bylaws."
Asked why the board dismissed Hrehorovich, he replied, "Now, you're getting into that sensitive area that I can't talk about."
On April 18, according to the suit, the medical staff passed a resolution of "no confidence" in the hospital administration and in Johnson's leadership.
The "no confidence" vote had been under discussion since April 3, the suit says, due to the medical staff's concerns about access and the quality of care being provided to a community that includes many low-income families who are uninsured.
"The treatment of these patients is not encouraged by the hospital," Nemeroff said.
On April 26, the medical executive committee by a unanimous vote advised the hospital and Johnson that the medical staff disagreed with, and was not satisfied with the dismissal of Hrehorovich as head of the department of medicine, according to the suit.
Hrehorovich, who also is the editor of the Maryland Medical Journal published by the state medical society, remains at the hospital as chairman of the medical staff, which is not a paid position, and as an attending physician.
He is a board-certified physician in five specialties -- internal medicine, infectious diseases, pulmonary disease, critical care and geriatrics.