Monday, May 21, 2007

Ex-doctor suing for $40 million

ublished: Sunday, May 20, 2007
Sam Hemingway
Free Press Staff Writer

A former St. Albans doctor who resigned from the Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans in 2004 after claiming surgical fluids at the hospital had been intentionally contaminated has sued the hospital and six other defendants for $40 million.

According to documents on file at federal court in Burlington, orthopedic surgeon Raymond A. Long claims the hospital set out to destroy his career because he reported the contamination to state authorities and confronted hospital officials about other problems at the facility.

Lawyers for the hospital say in court papers that Long resigned in 2004 because the hospital was about to undertake an internal investigation of quality of care issues regarding Long and what it viewed as his disruptive behavior in front of patients and employees.

Long, who no longer holds a license to practice medicine in Vermont and now lives in Plattsburgh, N.Y., is facing three medical malpractice lawsuits in Vermont; a fourth was settled in 2006. He is the author of a 2006 instructional book on anatomy for yoga teachers.

The Long case has been contentious from the start. Still a year away from trial, it has already generated 10,000 pages of documents and involved 25 attorneys. At a May 11 court hearing, Long's lawyer claimed the hospital had employed 19 private investigators to delve into Long's background.

Long, under orders from his lawyer, George Parry of Philadelphia, declined comment on his case after the hearing. The hospital's attorney, Kathleeen Chancler of Philadelphia, also declined comment, but a lawyer for Quorum Health Resources, a Texas firm that helps manage the hospital, issued a statement denying Long's allegations.

"This is a longstanding dispute and we contest all of the plaintiff's claims, which are baseless," Philip Zane said in his statement. "The defendants expect to prevail."
Early confrontation

Long, a graduate of the University of Michigan medical school, joined Northwest Orthopedics in St. Albans in 2001 after completing a residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Montreal. He obtained provisional operating privileges at Northwestern Medical Center in September 2001.

According to court papers, Long's first dispute with hospital doctors and administrators occurred shortly after a Montgomery Center man became paralyzed in his arms and legs after Long operated on his shoulder on Jan. 25, 2002.

Long alleged that the quadriplegia was caused by improperly administered anesthesia. The anesthesiologist, in turn, told the patient that surgical errors by Long caused the paralysis, Long's lawsuit said.

The paralysis later subsided, but when the patient told Long he could not pay the hospital bill because the paralysis made it impossible for him to return to work, Long told him to file a lawsuit for malpractice. The case is now pending in Franklin County Superior Court.

The case was the beginning of a series of disputes between Long and other doctors at the hospital and hospital administrators that, based on allegations in Long's lawsuit, read at times like a mystery novel.

Long claims he collected proof that an anesthesiologist's mistakes had caused neurological damage to a surgical patient, only to discover that a hospital employee had "illegally entered" Long's office and removed the damaging evidence.

Hospital administrators once interrupted Long during a complicated surgery to tell him his hospital pager bill was overdue. In another incident, Long said an administrator pressured him to curtail a surgical procedure on a Medicaid-eligible patient in order to free up an operating room for more lucrative, elective surgery operations.

On March 31, 2004, shortly after suspending Long's operating privileges and recommending he undergo a psychiatric evaluation, the hospital reinstated Long's privileges so he could conduct a difficult ball-and-socket shoulder replacement surgery the following day, April 1.

The hospital, in papers it has filed with the court, denied the first two allegations listed above but admitted it did grant him temporary privileges for the April 1 surgery. The hospital also confirmed in court documents that Long was told he needed to undergo "certain evaluations" just before he decided to resign.

The hospital also included in its court papers a 2000 performance evaluation of Long when he was a resident doctor at the University of Montreal that showed he had received "below average" marks in the categories of "ability to work with others" and "relationship with medical staff."
Contamination question

Long claimed in his lawsuit that he discovered the contamination of surgical fluids in an operating room after three of his patients developed life-threatening infections following surgeries that he had performed on them.

The hospital does not dispute that two of the three patients suffered from post-operative life-threatening infections.

When Long discovered the contamination, he reported it to hospital authorities. Long, in court papers, said that the hospital failed to properly investigate the contamination. Unsatisfied with the hospital's response, he claimed in court papers that he later intercepted an operating room solution prior to a Feb. 6, 2004, surgery and had Fletcher Allen Health Care test a sample of it.

"FAHC advised Dr. Long that testing conclusively established that the sample of irrigation solution was heavily contaminated with coagulase positive Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly infectious agent," Long's lawsuit said.

Long, through an attorney, also alerted the Attorney General's office about the contamination. Attorney General William Sorrell confirmed his office conducted a criminal investigation into the claim, but the probe ended with no one being charged.

"We did not find evidence to satisfy us at all that criminal conduct had taken place, let alone by whom," Sorrell said in an interview.

The state Health Department, in a statement released April 6, 2004, also said it did not find evidence of contamination at the hospital. "We find nothing to suggest that there is any increased risk of infection at Northwestern, as compared to any other hospital," then Health Commissioner Paul Jarris said in the statement.

The following day, Long resigned. In a statement he sent to the media at the time, he lambasted the hospital for conspiring to ruin his career for speaking out about problems at the facility, including the contamination issue.

"As a result of raising such questions, Dr. Long has been the subject of multiple adverse actions intended to force him out of the hospital and the community," Long's statement said in part.
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