Doctor: $25 million verdict hurts patients

By Eric Eyre

Don’t tell neurosurgeon Dr. John Schmidt that the recent $25 million jury award against Charleston Area Medical Center won’t harm patient care.

Schmidt says he sees equipment every day that needs to be fixed at the hospital.

“Go to any floor, and you’ll see something broken,” Schmidt told CAMC trustees Wednesday.

Schmidt worries hospital facilities won’t be upgraded, equipment won’t be replaced, and programs and personnel will be cut if a judge upholds the $25 million verdict.

“The thought that $25 million can be lost and not affect the institution severely is beyond my comprehension,” Schmidt said during Wednesday’s board meeting in Charleston.

On Feb. 7, a Kanawha County jury awarded Charleston surgeon Dr. R.E. Hamrick Jr. $5 million in compensatory and $20 million in punitive damages, deciding that hospital executives smeared Hamrick’s reputation and wrongfully revoked his privileges in a dispute over the doctor’s malpractice insurance.

Hamrick sued CAMC in 2004 after administrators pulled his privileges to practice at the hospital. The executives balked at Hamrick’s plan to insure himself against malpractice with $1 million of his own money.

Schmidt, whose Neurological Associates group has a financial relationship with CAMC, served as the hospital’s chief of staff at the time. CAMC pays Schmidt’s group about $1.2 million a year, according to documents filed with the West Virginia Health Care Authority.

CAMC officials are investigating whether their liability insurance coverage will cover the jury award. The hospital also plans to appeal the verdict.

“Every dollar that’s spent on something other than patient care is a dollar lost,” Schmidt said.

Some doctors believe such comments from Schmidt and CAMC administrators are designed to turn hospital employees against Hamrick.

“The hospital is trying to make people believe this is going to have a bearing on salaries and services,” said Dr. Scott Miller, a Charleston cardiologist who supports Hamrick, “but the hospital has insurance, and $25 million is a drop in the bucket compared to their revenues.

Hamrick has become a “victim of CAMC’s manipulative behavior,” Miller said.

“The Board of Trustees needs to make a change in the administration, and they need to do that as soon as possible,” he said.

CAMC board members have stood by the hospital’s top executives.

Also Wednesday, board members approved a request from doctors that chips away at the lucrative contracts between CAMC and physicians’ groups.

For the first time in years, CAMC will allow doctors to request privileges to perform procedures at the hospital, even though CAMC has lucrative, multiyear contracts with doctors’ groups to provide the same services.

At least six cardiologists are expected to apply for credentials to perform CT imaging scans at the hospital. CAMC, however, won’t allow doctors to perform the scans because it has a contract with Associated Radiologists to do the work.

The hospital also has contracts with physician groups to provide emergency medicine, anesthesiology and other services.

Doctors said the credentialing change would ensure that physicians were “ready to go” if the board ever decides not to renew the exclusive contracts.

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.
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