Physicians and lawmakers say doctors need protection from lawsuits

Dr. Nancy Henly said if she had had more protection from the state, a jury may not have ruled against her. Dr. Henly’s opinion is not hers alone.

Cafeteria D at St. Claire Regional Medical Center was nearly filled Thursday night with local doctors and four state lawmakers who were eager to discuss the doctors’ concerns.

House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, State Representative John Will Stacy, State Senator Walter Blevins and Richard White, owner of Richard White Wood products, and candidate for Blevins’ seat, were in attendance. Adkins, Democrat from Sandy Hook, told the crowd before the discussion began that he does not have all the answers.

“They’re the experts in the field,� Adkins said. “I’m not a doctor. I’ve never been an administrator in a hospital so it’s really important for me to be able to sit and listen to their issues because they’re the people in the trenches.�

Mark Neff, President and CEO of St. Claire Regional, said the hospital carries more insurance now than it did 10 years ago but still faces danger.

“We don’t end up in court very often at all but we have a number of cases filed and those are usually dropped or dismissed but it costs us a lot to defend ourselves to the point of dismissal,� Neff said.

Dr. Henly said juries may often have a hard time understanding the facts of medical cases.

“There needs to be some protection for doctors who are doing their job, and doing prudent reasonable care, to be protected from the misunderstandings of very technical medical difficulties that we give the jury to decide without protection for the doctors who are doing a good job.�

Henly said expert testimony in the case against her was in her favor.

“The child has no ongoing medical problems, has no continuing medical needs, no damage from the condition that she had which was a medical condition that was not caused by my care,� Henly said. “Any reasonable and prudent doctor would have done things the way I did them, according to expert testimony in this case.�

The ideal way to avoid frivolous cases ending up in court would be for a medical review board to review them first, Neff said.

Adkins said the House passed a bill that included just that.

“The senate passed a constitutional amendment,� Adkins said. “The house passed a bill four years ago that didn’t require constitutional amendment which addressed some very critical areas that many people who understand medical malpractice believe that legislation was comprehensive. It addressed some very important areas like having a medical review team to look at all the different lawsuits that came forward to say whether they were frivolous or not. It set up a non-mandatory arbitration clause in the legislation, it also set up a mutual medical malpractice fund so doctors could buy insurance.�

Adkins said the House and Senate have been debating the issue for several years.

Blevins said he supports tort reform in some ways but does not want people to lose their constitutional rights.

“I have great concern and great respect for doctors in our area and I want to do what I can to help them but I don’t want to do something that’s going to take away the freedom and constitutional right that people have to their day in court,� Blevins said. “I’m going to continue to be that way but I hope we compromise and find a way to make it a little better than it is today. Hopefully we can do that in the next session.�

Henly said she thinks she wants to continue practicing in Kentucky.

“It certainly makes it harder to feel comfortable in knowing that I can do the best job that I know how to do and do it appropriately and to the standards of care that I have been trained in and still be subject to the whims of this type of case,� Henly said.

Surgeon David Victor said a tremendous amount of doctors choose not to practice in Kentucky because the state is not doctor friendly.

“The ones that stay practice defensive medicine which drives the cost of medical care up tremendously,� Victor said. “This is an issue that affects not just doctors. It’s not just about doctors only. It’s about health care that we provide for everybody.�

Stacy said there is no quick fix.

“There’s no guarantee that if you put a tort reform bill together and you submit it to the voters that that would pass,� Stacy said. “If institutions like St. Claire and physicians like we have here in Morehead and the surrounding counties are to be protected, it needs to be in a swifter manner.�

Dr. Henly said she thinks the legislators listened to her concerns.

“What will happen now, I don’t know,� Henly said. “Kentucky is a medically underserved state in general and in this area in particular. It’s very hard to attract doctors here. I’ve put 23 years of my life in this community and I think those of us who do that need to know that we have some consideration in this.�

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