On May 8, 2017, a federal jury awarded a $1,180,257 verdict to former Huron surgeon, Dr. Linda Miller. The jury found that Huron Regional Medical Center (HR) breached Dr. Miller’s services contract and its own bylaws in handling Dr. Miller’s privileges back in 2011.
Dr. Miller began working at HR in 2004 as a contract surgeon. In 2006, she joined the HR staff and later became an independent contractor for the clinic in 2009. In the summer of 2010, HR’s Board of Directors became concerned with some of Dr. Miller’s patients’ complications. The Board asked the MEC to investigate, which resulted in internal review of all of Dr. Miller’s cases. More patient complications arose in late 2010 and early 2011 and some additional external review was undertaken. By April of 2011, the Board and MEC felt something needed to be done, so the MEC decided to ask Dr. Miller to voluntarily reduce her surgical privileges. When confronted with this choice, Dr. Miller claimed she was given no other options. On April 26, 2011, Dr. Miller acquiesced. Even though an MEC member had apparently told her otherwise, HR concluded Dr. Miller’s decision created a reportable event and it reported Dr. Miller to the NPDB. In May of 2011, Dr. Miller requested reinstatement of some of her privileges, with additional conditions. Her request was approved and HR reported to the NPDB again, this time indicating that Dr. Miller had restrictions on her privileges. About four months later, in September of 2011, Dr. Miller resigned from HR.
Dr. Miller brought suit in 2013. The heart of her claim was that HR failed to comply with its bylaws her when she was asked to voluntarily resign her privileges because she was afforded no formal hearing. She further argued that HR irreparably harmed her through the reports it made to the NPDB. Dr. Miller now works as a wound care doctor making much less than she did as a general surgeon. HR asserted that its bylaws were not violated because it never actually took formal action against Dr. Miller, relying heavily on the contention that Dr. Miller was simply asked to reduce her privileges, not forced to.
The jury’s verdict here should serve as a strong reminder that when a hospital intends to take any action that will result in a report to the NPDB, the hospital’s bylaws and their fair hearing procedures must be referenced and strictly complied with. Not doing so is too big a risk when considering the harmful impact a NPDB report can have on a physician’s career.
*Boyce Law Firm Summer Associate, Jordyn Bangasser, contributed to this blog post.