Doctor files suit against hospital

Longtime surgeon says staff retaliated after his criticism

January 22, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County General Hospital surgeon has filed a $5.25 million lawsuit against the hospital, claiming the staff destroyed his medical practice when he complained about the care patients were receiving.

In a lawsuit filed in Carroll Circuit Court, Dr. Wenifredo N. Iglesia of Taneytown says that when he criticized the quality of care at the county's only hospital, medical staff, "motivated by hatred" and with "the deliberate intent to injure" him, circulated rumors that he was mentally unstable, causing him to lose patients and income.

Iglesia, a Carroll County General surgeon for more than two decades, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

"Despite my service to the hospital, despite my loyalty ... my name has been destroyed," said Iglesia, who filed the suit this month. He resigned in September after the hospital's board of directors told him his admitting privileges would be revoked.

David Horn, Carroll General's vice president for marketing and a hospital spokesman, said Iglesia's lawsuit is without merit.

"We just don't think that's the way things actually occurred," he said. "We at Carroll County General strive to give our patients the highest quality of care and treat our staff professionally, with fairness, respect and dignity."

Horn said he could not speak specifically about the case.

Iglesia, who has had no action taken against him by the state licensing board, has admitting privileges at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown.

Iglesia, 70, estimated he has performed thousands of biopsies, appendectomies and other surgeries at the hospital since he gained admitting privileges in 1976.

It is uncommon for a hospital to suspend a doctor's admitting privileges and even more rare for a suspended physician to then sue the hospital, according to Charles B. Inlander, president of People's Medical Society, a national consumer health advocacy group based in Allentown, Pa.

"This isn't an everyday occurrence," Inlander said. "Most hospitals don't take away doctor's privileges because doctor's privileges are what bring people into the hospital."

According to the lawsuit, Iglesia's problems with Carroll County General began after he was invited to join the organization's Surgical Quality Assurance Board in 1996. The board, consisting of surgeons with admitting privileges at the hospital, meets monthly to review cases of special interest and discusses them to determine whether patients received appropriate medical care.

When Iglesia presented two cases he had been assigned to review, court records show, members of the board disliked his criticism of the way the cases were handled. Iglesia said he began to notice what he considered a double standard in reviewing cases.

"I've been penalized for some minor mistakes, yet tremendously profound mistakes by the favored doctors of the hospital were swept under the rug, put in the closet," Iglesia said in an interview. "Favored doctors don't have quality assurance, death and mortality discussed. Unfavored doctors, they have it."

In December 1996, Dr. Reynaldo Madrinan, chairman of the Surgical Quality Assurance Board, visited him at home, according to the suit, and told Iglesia he risked losing his surgical privileges if he didn't "get with the program."

The relationship between Iglesia and the doctors on the board continued to deteriorate in the next four years. Iglesia said he felt so intimidated by the threats of the medical staff that he hired an attorney in 1997.

Two hospital employees then filed complaints against the surgeon - one expressing dissatisfaction with Iglesia's treatment of a hospital patient, the other stating that Iglesia was "snooping" in a doctor's patient file. Those complaints were forwarded to the hospital's credentials committee in July 1998, and several long hearings followed.

Iglesia said rumors began circulating at the hospital that he was mentally unstable.

In April, according to court records, John Sernulka, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, notified Iglesia that the medical executive committee recommended revoking his admitting privileges because of incidents of "inappropriate behavior."

All of this, Iglesia said, resulted from his criticisms about quality of care at Carroll County General.

Founded in 1961, Carroll County General has more than 400 physicians on its staff, representing more than 35 specialties. The hospital annually serves 200,000 patients with direct medical care, outreach and community programs, diagnostic and outpatient services, and screenings, according to the hospital's Web site.

Carroll County General was accredited with commendation by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations during its most recent review in May 1998. Only 16 percent of hospitals nationwide receive accreditation with commendation, Horn said.

A hearing on the case has not been scheduled.

This is not the only lawsuit against the hospital recently filed by a member of its medical staff.

On Jan. 9, Dr. Antonio Y. Medina, a Reisterstown orthopedic surgeon, asked for a temporary restraining order against the hospital to prevent it from suspending his admitting privileges and reporting him to the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance.

According to Carroll County Circuit Court documents, the hospital planned to suspend Medina's privileges for 30 days because he failed to pay a $1,000 fine to the hospital for failing to obey an order from its medical executive committee to learn about a type of medical treatment. The motion was denied Tuesday.

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