Santa Clara Valley Medical Center accused of doc retaliation

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center allegedly harassed and forced four cardiologists out of their jobs for exposing patient safety issues that resulted in severe complications and even deaths, according to plaintiffs who are suing the San Jose, Calif., hospital, Mass Device reported.

Echocardiographer Geeta Singh and cardiothoracic surgeon Kai Ihnken, two of the physician defendants, said they had filed patient safety complaints for years but were ignored by hospital officials. When they took their complaints to county officials, the physicians alleged they were harassed, Mass Device noted.

After filing the lawsuit, Singh was moved to a satellite outpatient office, she said.

"The only thing they are allowing me to do is see outpatients. I have lost 90% of my previous job responsibilities. This is retaliation," she told heartwire.

Singh also said she was sexually harassed and filed complaints with Equal Opportunities at the hospital, although the department never investigated. However, she did receive a letter from the County Equal Opportunity Office acknowledging that the former chief of cardiology violated the county policy on sexual harassment, according to the article.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center also is accused of using the peer review process to force the physicians out.

"It seems, at least at SCVMC, that when they want to get rid of an employee all they have to do is a sham peer HIPAA review," Singh told heartwire.

Ihnken's contract with the hospital was terminated in October 2010, that is, 7 months before it was due to expire.

"I can tell you that each and every patient-related safety issue that was reported was the subject of an investigation, both internally and by an outside entity that was specifically hired to look into those patient-related safety issues," said Gregory Sebastinelli, deputy county counsel for the County of San Jose who represents the defendants.

The Joint Commission in 2010 and 2011 put the medical center on "conditional accreditation" for six months, heartwire reported.

Recent state health department data, however, indicate that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center ranked higher than average in their medical or surgical critical care units with no central-line infections last year, the Bay Area News Group reported last week.

Even more, infection prevention manager Nancy Johnson said Santa Clara Valley Medical Center encourages employees to speak up if they see someone not following safety guidelines.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to mediation at the end of February. If it is not settled, it will likely move to a jury trial.

For more information:
- here's the heartwire article
- read the Mass Device article
- here's the Bay Area News Group article

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