HYANNIS — A former cardiologist and medical director at Cape Cod Hospital has filed a lawsuit against Cape Cod Healthcare, alleging he was fired after speaking out about the hospital’s allegedly unethical practices that favored benefit to patient care.
Dr. Richard Zelman, 64, has been an affiliated cardiologist and interventional surgeon with Cape Cod Hospital since 1990. He was hired full-time in 2006 and became medical director of the hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute in 2018.
According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Barnstable Superior Court, Zelman claims his job was terminated in September after he spoke out against the hospital’s allegedly unethical practices.
The lawsuit says that in 2019, hospital CEO Michael Lauf did not allow patients with Medicare or Medicaid insurance to use “Sentinel devices”, instead prioritizing patients whose insurance reimbursed the hospital at higher rates. According to the lawsuit, sentinel devices filter out stroke-causing debris during a catheter-based aortic valve replacement.
Although Lauf ultimately gave in to Zelman’s concerns, according to the lawsuit, Zelman faced retaliation for his actions, including an investigation into his performance.
Cape Cod Healthcare denies Zelman’s claims
Cape Cod Healthcare officials declined a request for an interview, but in a statement to The Times on Thursday, the hospital denied all of Zelman’s claims, in particular that they retaliated against him for raising health issues. patient safety.
“We appreciate and support the many dedicated doctors, nurses and other staff who care for our cardiology patients every day. This litigation is unfortunate and the allegations do a disservice to the hard work of these professionals,” the statement read.
The hospital also points out that it has won several awards for patient care, including the 2021 Patient Safety Excellence Award.
Zelman is now in private practice in Hyannis but still retains privileges at Cape Cod Hospital.
Concerns about other heart surgeons at Cape Cod Hospital
In 2021, Zelman reported that two heart surgeons at the hospital caused preventable patient deaths, among other negative outcomes. This included three postoperative deaths on low-risk candidates who were supposed to undergo simple surgeries, a fourth patient died from the fall of his lifeline, which was sutured in place by one of the surgeons, during transportation to another facility, depending on the trial.
He also accused the two surgeons of leaving the hospital premises when they were due to be present for the scheduled procedures.
Zelman claims in the lawsuit that “Lauf referred to a number of ‘botched’ procedures by heart surgeons and said that ‘the 15% death rate of heart surgeons is unacceptable,’ or words to that effect. “
“Competent heart surgeons have a mortality rate of 1-2%,” according to the lawsuit.
Zelman raised concerns about heart surgeons with Lauf and chief medical officer Dr. William Agel, though they failed to take steps to protect patients, the lawsuit said. The heart surgeons worked at Cape Cod Hospital but were employed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, so Lauf relied on that hospital to oversee the surgeons, the lawsuit said.
Zelman’s lawsuit claims Lauf failed to take action due to “the potential loss of substantial income.”
In February, one of two Brigham and Women heart surgeons working at Cape Cod Hospital was suspended after bringing an unloaded rifle to the hospital campus in Hyannis. He was later fired for the automatic rifle incident, according to the lawsuit.
Zelman eventually filed a complaint with a representative from Brigham and Women’s Hospital after he said Lauf and Agel failed to adequately address his concerns, according to the lawsuit.
After taking its complaints directly to Boston Hospital, Brigham and Women’s reported billing irregularities to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including the failure of cardiac surgeons to properly document their participation in aortic valve replacement procedures. transcatheter with Zelman, according to the lawsuit.
This led Brigham and Women’s Hospital to reimburse the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for six years of transcatheter aortic valve replacement costs, according to the lawsuit.
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“We have been made aware of Tuesday’s court filing and are reviewing its contents,” Brigham and Women’s Hospital said in a statement to The Times. “As healthcare providers, patient safety is our first priority and we regularly review our care to ensure it meets the highest quality standards.
When Brigham and Women’s reimbursed money to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it increased the risk that the Cape Cod hospital would also have to provide reimbursements, according to the lawsuit. The Cape Cod Hospital attorney told Zelman that the Brigham and Women’s Hospital chose to self-report the billing irregularities out of fear of Zelman’s whistleblower activities, according to the lawsuit.
Zelman was told his job would be terminated shortly after Cape Cod Hospital found out that Brigham and Women’s Hospital would reimburse Medicare and Medicaid Service Centers, according to the lawsuit. However, Lauf was prepared to allow Zelman to continue his employment if Zelman would agree to sign a contract that would require him to remain silent on patient safety issues.
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“For the past 25 years, I have been instrumental in bringing advanced cardiac care to Cape Cod. My commitment has always been to provide the same quality, results, and safety as academic centers in Boston,” Zelmen wrote in a statement to The Times on Thursday.
“Unfortunately over the past five years there has been inadequate oversight by the hospital administration and issues have arisen which I believe have had serious consequences for patients. I have been expressing concern for several years and they were ignored,” the statement continued. .
“Cape Cod Hospital offered me a million dollar contract if I would immediately release a written statement endorsing the quality and safety of the cardiac surgery program that no longer exists. money was not going to buy my silence,” Zelman in the statement.
Cape Cod Healthcare joins Beth Israel Lahey Health
Cape Cod Healthcare owns and operates Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals, rehabilitation centers, an assisted living facility and outpatient care centers, including six urgent care centers, according to its LinkedIn profile. The company bills itself as Cape Town’s leading provider of home care and palliative care services and the only local laboratory service, according to the profile.
In January, Cape Cod Healthcare officials announced that they had entered into a clinical affiliation with healthcare giant Beth Israel Lahey Health to expand access to comprehensive care for Cape Town residents and visitors.
Under the agreement, Beth Israel Lahey Health is providing cardiac surgeons in place of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which has partnered with Cape Cod Hospital’s open-heart program since its inception in 2002.
Contact Asad Jung at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @asadjungcct.
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