Doctor seeks $80 million in lawsuit Suspended physician blames three others, county hospital

'Bad blood,' racism alleged

Black gynecologist lists medical errors by his white peers

November 08, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A former chief of Howard County General Hospital's medical staff is suing the hospital and three doctors for at least $80 million, alleging that "bad blood" and racism -- rather than questionable medical decisions -- led to the suspension last year of his privileges at the facility.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Dr. Kline A. Price Jr. -- a black gynecologist who claims to be Columbia's first private doctor and is the brother of National Urban League President Hugh B. Price -- lists a host of alleged medical miscues performed at the Columbia hospital by white physicians that were not punished.

The alleged mistakes include surgery on the wrong knee, inadvertently perforated bladders and bowels, and the death of a woman who was sent home too early after delivering a baby.

The lawsuit offers a rare glimpse inside Howard County's relatively small medical community, alleging an unseemly picture of jealousy, bitter competition, negligence and racism.

Hospital officials held a press briefing yesterday afternoon to deny the allegations, but refused to discuss them in detail or answer questions. They characterized the suit as part of a trend toward litigation by physicians who believe they have been treated unfairly in various kinds of peer-review proceedings.

The three Howard County obstetrician-gynecologists also named in the lawsuit -- Drs. Steven F. Noskow, Mary P. Hogan and Allan W. Lohaus -- either refused to comment or did not return phone messages yesterday. All three held hospital positions that involved them in investigating Dr. Price prior to his suspension.

"We feel this suit is without justification," said Victor A. HTC Broccolino, president of the hospital. "We will vigorously defend our actions and the actions of the physicians" who were part of the peer review process that led to Dr. Price's suspension.

"We are saddened and quite surprised that Dr. Price has introduced racial issues," Mr. Broccolino said.

Dr. Price's lawsuit says he lost his medical privileges at the Howard hospital in September 1994 after an internal hospital dispute over whether he should have performed hysteroscopies on certain patients. The procedure allows a gynecologist to examine a woman's uterus using a fiber-optic micro-camera.

He alleges that white physicians who made serious medical errors have not been punished for their actions and that he was targeted unfairly for medical decisions that never harmed his patients.

According to the lawsuit, the mistakes by white physicians that have gone unpunished include:

* An unnamed member of the hospital board's professional committee and board of trustees' executive committee "negligently operated on the wrong knee during orthopedic surgery."

* An unnamed doctor left an anesthetized patient lying on the operating table for 40 minutes before beginning surgery.

* Dr. Lohaus "twice perforated two separate patients' bladders while performing surgery" and "lost a needle in another patient's bladder."

* Three instances of bowels being perforated by unnamed doctors during the summer of 1995 during tubal sterilizations, requiring second surgeries for each patient.

* The death of a 33-year-old patient of Dr. Hogan's practice when the patient hemorrhaged at home after being dismissed from the hospital after delivering a child.

* An attempt by Dr. Noskow to "grant to himself privileges to perform intra-abdominal laser surgery." This "potentially disastrous folly" was stopped by an operating room nurse who "would not permit him access to the equipment without first having been properly qualified to use it."

The three physicians named in the suit and Dr. Price do not have any pending allegations or records of public disciplinary actions, according to the State Board of Physician Quality Assurance.

The lawsuit paints a picture of jealousy and racism within the Howard County obstetrics and gynecology community and of competing doctors obsessed with forcing Dr. Price out of practice, even while he was president of the hospital's medical staff in 1992.

For example, the lawsuit alleges that Dr. Lohaus -- chairman of the ad hoc hospital committee investigating Dr. Price -- was fired by Dr. Price 20 years earlier over "personality clashes."

Dr. Lohaus "has harbored a grudge against [Dr. Price] since that time and for a considerable period of years after the incident, Lohaus refused to even converse with" Dr. Price, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hogan -- chairwoman of the hospital's obstetrics and gynecological Clinical Department Review Committee, which firstinvestigated Dr. Price -- was a former partner of Dr. Price. Dr. Price's departure from their medical group in 1987 had been a "source of great hatred" for Dr. Hogan and other members of her group, the lawsuit said.

Drs. Hogan, Lohaus and Noskow also were "direct competitor[s] of [Dr. Price], in the same patient market," and the lawsuit alleges that they had conspired "to eliminate [Dr. Price] as their competitor in Howard County thus effectively reducing the number of competent, qualified OB/GYN practitioners in Howard County for their personal gain."

The dispute over Dr. Price's care began in 1992, when the hospital's obstetrics review committee began what would become a nearly two-year review of the hysteroscopies he had performed.

His lawsuit alleges that he was denied due process throughout the investigation and that the hospital's board of trustees suspended his hospital privileges despite conclusions by the hospital's Medical Executive Committee that he had done nothing wrong.

Since September 1994, Dr. Price, who is in his late 50s, has been forced to use hospitals in Montgomery County to conduct surgeries, according to his lawyer, Thomas C. Beach III.

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