Tort reform linked to rise in doctors at CAMC

by Jake Stump
Daily Mail Staff

Charleston Area Medical Center is attributing its rise in new doctors to statewide medical malpractice reforms passed in 2003.

Dr. Glenn Crotty Jr., chief operating officer, said the hospital has recruited around 30 doctors annually over the past few years, for a total of almost 100 new hires.

Before the Legislature passed a comprehensive bill limiting the amount of payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits, the hospital would have been lucky to recruit one new doctor each year, Crotty said.

“We were at almost zero before tort reform,” Crotty said about the hospital’s recruiting efforts. “And we had several doctors leaving.”

After long debate, the Senate and House passed legislation putting a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, those awarded to a plaintiff for pain and suffering. The only exemption is in lawsuits claiming wrongful death or the kind of severe impairment that prevents a person from caring for himself or herself. The cap on non-economic damages in those cases now is set at $500,000.

Previously, plaintiffs could be awarded as much as $1 million.

The cap on trauma care damages also was lowered to $500,000.

Crotty believes these changes have made West Virginia a more attractive working environment for physicians.

“The caps have brought more doctors into our program,” Crotty said.

The trauma cap limits potential payouts so that doctors responding to emergencies don’t have to fear exhausting their insurance policy limits in case of a bad outcome in court, he said.

“Say if someone had ruptured an aneurysm or is in a bad car wreck, the chance of that person receiving help would depend on how soon he got to the emergency room,” Crotty said. “A doctor may not be able to save that person, but still be sued. Doctors are always fearful of that.”

Crotty also cites a drop in medical malpractice claims and insurance costs to the increase in new doctors.

Medical malpractice claims have dropped 50 percent across the state since passage of the tort reform bill, he said.

The bill also improved the market for private insurance companies and allowed smaller, rural hospitals to obtain private insurance, health care officials have said.

CAMC’s recruitment efforts are expected to continue at a steady pace.

More than 60 percent of the hospital’s newest doctors have ties to West Virginia. They either attended medical school here or are natives of the Mountain State.

“I think a bulk of them would not have stayed if we did not have tort reform,” Crotty said.

CAMC still is recruiting doctors for more than 26 medical specialties, and is searching to fill a total of 40 vacancies.
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