Just when a legal settlement with three doctors seemed to calm tensions at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, the chief neurosurgeon yesterday filed a $6 million lawsuit, alleging that he is being wrongly forced out of his job.
Dr. Clark Watts said his contract has been violated and his reputation damaged by Dr. Kimball Maull, the hospital's new director, who told him on July 6 to look for another job because of differences over the treatment of patients with head and spinal injuries.
Dr. Maull insisted that he had not forbidden the 53-year-old surgeon to teach or perform surgery. In a news conference three weeks ago, he had said that Dr. Watts simply had been demoted to the position of staff neurosurgeon. "He has not been fired," Dr. Maull said yesterday. "I am somewhat perplexed by the suit."
Dr. Watts said news of his impending "dismissal" came as a shock because he had been enticed two years ago to leave his post at the University of Missouri, where he had worked for 15 years and had tenure.
But he was recruited a year before the arrival of Dr. Maull, who took the helm in February of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System, which runs Shock Trauma and the statewide emergency medical system.
"I have never in my 25 years in medicine encountered anything like this," Dr. Watts said. He said he was "saddened" not only by his differences with Dr. Maull, but also by the director's plans to consolidate some functions of Shock Trauma and the adjacent University of Maryland Medical Center.
He said he wasn't told to leave on a particular date and intends to take care of patients until ordered out.
Dr. Watts said the dispute revolves around his plan for taking care of patients with spinal and brain injuries, one that calls for other specialists to oversee patients' rehabilitation after surgery and re-entry into society. Initially, he said, Dr. Maull gave him a year to prove that his plan worked, but then informed him in late May that the plan "won't work." Two months later, he said, Dr. Maull was more emphatic: "There has been at least one communication which indicates I should look for another job."
The lawsuit names as defendants Dr. Maull, the University of Maryland Medical Systems and several university officials. They
include Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, chief executive officer of the medical system; Dr. Errol L. Reese, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore; Dr. Anthony Imbembo, chief of surgery at the school of medicine; and Dr. Donald Wilson, medical school dean.
A storm of controversy followed Dr. Maull's decision in July to fire a clinical-area specialist and two surgeons at Shock Trauma. Among other criticisms, he said they actively resisted his efforts to consolidate the care of seriously injured patients at Shock Trauma and the adjacent university hospital.
In a legal settlement, the firings were rescinded, but the medical system agreed to pay the doctors $200,000 each in salaries in return for their departures.