Eye surgeon in battle with firm he founded Pioneer Eye Care gains injunction against Glaser


August 12, 1998|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Dr. Bert M. Glaser, a high-profile retina surgeon, is involved in a messy split-up with Pioneer Eye Care, a company he founded.

In a court filing, Pioneer charges that Glaser "squandered" company assets. Glaser says Pioneer failed to fulfill its responsibilities to him and his medical practice.

Large sums of money are involved. Pioneer says it paid Glaser more than $5 million last year for his practice, for consulting fees and for serving as chairman of Pioneer.

Despite the charges and countercharges, both sides say Glaser left Pioneer voluntarily June 29. They disagree, however, on whether Glaser may continue to practice in the Baltimore area.

Pioneer says Glaser signed a noncompetition agreement; Glaser argues that Pioneer's failure to keep its end of the bargain invalidates his contract.

Yesterday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert B. Cahill Sr. issued a preliminary injunction saying that Glaser and his associates may not provide general eye services within 15 miles of their former Pioneer offices for two years.

The judge ruled that they may continue to perform surgery at hospitals in the Baltimore area and maintain offices at those hospitals for pre- and post-surgical consultations.

Glaser has privileges at Mercy Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, St. Joseph Medical Center and University of Maryland Medical Center, said his attorney, Paul Mark Sandler.

The decision will force 30,000 to 40,000 patients (by Pioneer's count) of Glaser and doctors affiliated with him to choose between traveling out of the area for nonsurgical care -- Glaser has established an office in Chevy Chase -- or switching to other doctors staffing three former Glaser offices for Pioneer.

At Glaser's main office in Towson, those new doctors will be provided by Johns Hopkins Hospital's Wilmer Eye Institute.

Two other former Glaser offices, in Bel Air and Pikesville, will be staffed by other Pioneer doctors.

Treated Kirby Puckett

Glaser is well enough known that when Kirby Puckett, a former star Minnesota Twins outfielder, sought eye surgery in 1996 in an attempt to correct the blurred vision that ended his career, he came to Towson to have Glaser do the work.

Glaser started Pioneer in 1994 to sign contracts with health maintenance organizations to provide eye care, and to buy and manage the practices of eye doctors.

Pioneer has about 450 doctors participating in those HMO agree- ments. And after eight ophthalmologists and two optometrists left in the Glaser split, it still owns the practices of 24 ophthalmologists and six optometrists at 18 offices in Maryland and New Jersey, according to figures provided by Pioneer.

As the company grew, it changed. Last year, it attracted $16 million in venture capital, reducing the stake of Glaser, who had been primary owner. And it hired a full-time chief executive officer, Leon Kaplan.

Mutual criticism

In its filing, Pioneer says Glaser managed the company ineffectively. And when he left, Pioneer charges, Glaser took a patient list "surreptitiously," planned to open four offices in violation of the noncompetition agreement, and "did his best to interfere" in negotiations between Pioneer and Wilmer.

Sandler, to whom Glaser referred questions on the dispute, said Glaser denies the charges and will answer them in more detail as the court case proceeds.

Sandler said Glaser's practice group told Pioneer in March that it was performing its practice management chores -- such as billing, collecting accounts and marketing -- unsatisfactorily.

Pioneer's poor performance meant it had breached its agreements with Glaser and the agreements were not binding, Sandler said.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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