Image via Clark Construction
Written by Breanna Hardy
Community Medical Centers has filed a Fresno Superior Court lawsuit against its physicians at Santé on Sept. 23 after a neurosurgeon walkout.
The defendants are Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group and Scott Wells, CEO and executive director of the Santé Health System. Santé has more than 1,200 physicians, and Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group is an entity that arranges for and provides on-call medical staffing.
The lawsuit states that Wells was responsible for communicating with Community Medical Centers on behalf of the Staff Medical Group, particularly regarding on-call services the Staff Medical Group provided for the hospital trauma center.
The legal complaint states that on Sept. 1, with less than two days’ notice instead of the required 90-day written notice, neurosurgeons in the medical group announced they would stop providing call coverage at Community Regional Medical Center. Call coverage agreements require physicians to be on call in the emergency department, and for in-patient consultations.
The lawsuit said that “at 9:38 a.m. on September 1, 2020, Joyce Fields-Keene, the CEO of CCFMG, contacted CMC’s Chief Operating Officer, Craig Wagoner, and advised him that neurosurgeons with arrangements to provide neurosurgery call coverage to CMC through CRMSMG would cease such services at 5:00 p.m. on September 2, 2020. This was less than 32 hours’ notice.”
The lawsuit went on to say that Fields-Keene – who is Wells’ fiancé – made the call to pull physicians during a time period with a significant uptick in Covid-19 cases, and just before the Creek Fire began.
The lawsuit also alleges that the goal was to strip Community Medical Centers of its status as Level 1 Trauma Center. By Sept. 15, the hospital system was able to contract neurosurgeons who were affiliated with the previous contract before the alleged walkout.
The contract between Community Medical Centers and the Staff Medical Group was established in January 2005 to ensure there were specialty physicians on-call to respond to trauma cases. Community is the only Level 1 Trauma Center between Los Angeles and Sacramento . Eventually the Staff Medical Group assisted Community Medical Centers with administering and managing the specialty physicians who would agree to be on-call, the lawsuit stated.
Community Medical Centers said in a statement that the abrupt notice jeopardized the hospital by forcing officials to transfer critical patients out of Fresno and to urgently locate replacement neurosurgeons.
The lawsuit states, “Defendants engaged in their scheme to both inflict damage on CMC and in an effort to use the potential of denying certain specialty lifesaving hospital services in an attempt to secure leverage over CMC. Plainly, Defendants’ conduct was nothing short of despicable. They blatantly sought to put public health and human lives in jeopardy in a callous effort to needlessly tarnish [the hospital] and to secure financial benefits from themselves.”
Community is seeking damages from the breach of contract, breach of good faith and interference with contractual relations. The damages include the costs of securing substitute neurosurgeons, engaging with a public relations firm to address the issues and reputational damage, costs for stabilizing and transferring patients and paying attorneys.
“It’s unfortunate that we need to take legal action. But, especially during the Covid-19 crisis, our hospital system has been working overtime for the Valley. We don’t have resources to waste, nor do we need the distraction that this unnecessary action created,” said Craig Wagoner, CEO of Community Medical Centers.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.