Trauma doctors call for end to feud Most of disputed fees also have been returned

September 12, 1992|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Leading doctors at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center declared an end yesterday to the feuding that has rocked the hospital for six weeks, and said physicians had returned most of the $2.5 million in patient fees the administration had accused them of diverting.

Thirty of 34 doctors who shared the money had returned their portions yesterday in accordance with a deadline set by University of Maryland officials, said clinical director Philip Militello at a news conference.

In conciliatory tones rarely heard since tensions erupted this summer, Dr. Militello threw his support behind Dr. Kimball I. Maull, the strong-willed trauma chief who took office last February. Dr. Militello said he regretted that internal bickering had caused the public to doubt the center's ability to save critically injured patients.

"The reason we are here is to heal injured people, and provide them with the best possible patient care," Dr. Militello said at the news briefing. "Our main mission is too important to let political issues distract us."

Dr. Militello was flanked by two other leading trauma doctors -- Dr. John Britten, director of critical care, and Dr. Roy A. Myers, director of hyperbaric treatment. The three had taken a low profile during the controversy that seemed to pit many physicians against Dr. Maull and the policies he pursued almost from the moment he assumed office in February.

Their announcement appeared timed to coincide with a deadline issued earlier this week by top officials of the University of Maryland, who had threatened legal action unless the $2.5 million was returned by yesterday afternoon.

In August, directors of a doctor-run corporation that collects patient fees distributed the money in varying shares to 34 doctors, calling it "deferred compensation" that had been accumulating for eight years in a rainy-day fund. The group goes under the name Shock Trauma Associates Professional Association (STAPA).

The administration characterized the doctors' action as improper, saying the money was seized without the required approval of Dr. Maull and Dr. Erroll Reese, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, which has jurisdiction over the medical faculty.

Officials contended that under a formula set by the Board of Regents, at least half of the $2.5 million should have gone to support research, equipment and other institutional needs.

Dr. Militello said money is still being held by three doctors whom Dr. Maull dismissed in July, and a fourth who has sued Dr. Maull over a contract dispute.

All but "4 to 5 percent" of the total had been returned -- meaning $100,000 to $125,000 was still outstanding, Dr. Militello estimated. One of the holdouts, Dr. Howard Belzberg, declined to put a figure on his share, but said the total held by the four could be as high as $200,000.

He said his attorneys had advised him to retain his share until a legal dispute over the terms of his departure is resolved. He said surgeons C. Michael Dunham and Ameen Ramzy, represented by the same attorneys, received the same advice.

Dr. Ramzy and Dr. Dunham could not be reached for comment. Neither could Dr. Clark Watts, the surgeon engaged in the contract dispute.

At the news briefing, Dr. Myers refused to discuss what led the doctors to distribute the money at a time when tensions between physicians and Dr. Maull seemed to be reaching a boiling point.

"What we need to do is put that behind us," he said. "To speculate on what might have been anticipated is wrong. We want to go forward."

Much of the summer's rancor has revolved around actions taken by Dr. Maull to end the longtime autonomy enjoyed by Shock Trauma and to place it in closer partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and the medical school.

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