Saturday, June 2, 2007

Patients steered to female Ob/gyns, Harvard Vanguard doctor alleges

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

A Harvard Vanguard obstetrician/gynecologist is suing his employer for allegedly steering new patients away from older, male doctors and attempting to move him out of the practice through unfavorable financial and night-call arrangements.
Dr. Stephen D. Baer (left), 63, filed a lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court last week against Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and ob/gyn director Dr. Robin S. Richman, alleging discrimination based on disability as well as age and gender.

The suit claims that discrimination in how new patients were assigned to doctors coincided with the group's running a deficit of about $3.5 million in 2005.

"On several occasions the employer's ob/gyn management stated that male doctors do not attract patients and that HVMA needed to hire young female doctors to attract new patients and increase patient volume and revenue," the suit says. "To this day, HVMA's policy is to get rid of older, male ob/gyn doctors, when possible, and replace them with younger, female ob/gyn doctors in order to stimulate growth in the practice."

Harvard Vanguard issued a response today.

"It is our policy not to discuss specifics of employment matters and pending litigation. However, we believe this claim is without merit," the statement said. "Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates is committed to delivering the highest quality patient care, which depends on our physicians and other healthcare professionals. We are an equal opportunity workplace."

According to the suit, new patients calling for an appointment who did not request a specific doctor were assigned to younger female doctors or told "you don't want to see a male doctor, do you?"

Baer began working for Harvard Vanguard's predecessor, Harvard Community Health Plan, in 1977. He stopped doing night call in 1993 after suffering a heart attack in 1989 and having heart surgery in 1993, the suit says. In 2005 he was told he could no longer practice obstetrics without doing night call, the suit says. Since November 2006, he has been working as a gynecologist only, with a significant cut in pay, the suit says. He is based in the Copley office on Dartmouth Street in Boston.

In 2005, Harvard Vanguard changed how it credits doctors with revenue in a way that hurt Baer and other older, male doctors, the complaint alleges. Under the new system, the "doctor of record" for an obstetrics patient was credited with revenues from the patient, regardless of which doctor saw the patient or delivered her baby, according to the suit. This favored younger, female doctors to whom new patients were assigned, it said.

Baer alleges that he has lost wages and suffered severe emotional distress because of gender and age discrimination and lack of accommodation for his disability.

Baer's lawyer, Judith A. Miller of Wellesley, declined to comment on the suit.


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