Tenet ordered to pay $10M+ to fired physicians, restore medical privileges

Two cardiologists — who claimed Tenet Healthcare fired them in retaliation for making safety complaints among other violations — have won $10.6 million and will have their medical staff privileges restored, a Michigan federal court has ruled.

Tenet and Detroit Medical Center, where the physicians worked when they were fired, have filed an appeal against the ruling.

“As one of the region’s leading providers of cardiovascular care, our mission is to provide patients with compassionate, high quality and innovative heart and vascular care led by a strong and capable team of physicians and staff,” said Detroit Medical Center in an emailed statement.

In 2018, Tenet’s Detroit Medical Center terminated its contracts with cardiologists Dr. Amir Kaki and Dr. Mahir Elder. The physicians were not medical center employees but were contracted as directors of various service lines when not running their own independent medical practices. The medical center claimed that it fired the physicians because they displayed disrespectful, intimidating and threatening behavior.

These behaviors included screaming at and berating staff, and threatening coworkers, the medical center alleged.

Kaki and Elder sued Tenet and Detroit Medical Center. During the arbitration process, the cardiologists argued that the medical center’s actions were part of “a far-ranging conspiracy to punish them.” Detroit Medical Center was retaliating against them for making complaints about dirty instruments and other physicians’ practices, including Medicare and Medicaid billing practices that reportedly violated the False Claims Act, they claimed.

But the medical center said that the retaliation claims were baseless. The cardiologists “were denied privileges solely because of their well-documented behavioral problems,” it said during the arbitration process, which was ordered in October 2019.

Though the arbitrator found that none of the members of Detroit Medical Center’s governing board acted with malice, the arbitrator issued an award in December 2020 to the cardiologists for about $4.7 million in back pay, another $3.1 million and $1 million each in exemplary damages and attorney’s fees and costs. That totaled to $10.6 million.

In addition, the arbitrator ordered Detroit Medical Center to reinstate the cardiologists’ medical staff membership for a one-year period. Tenet and Detroit Medical Center moved to get the arbitrator’s decisions vacated, but they were denied.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan affirmed the arbitrator’s decisions earlier this week.

While the defendants do not need to pay the $10.6 million until March 3, the district court ordered them to reinstate the cardiologists’ medical privileges immediately. Further, the district court stated that if the “defendants continue to delay restoration of plaintiffs’ privileges in the hopes of a different result on appeal, they will be in violation of this order.”

The defendants have filed an appeal against the court’s order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In it, they have asked the court to issue a stay on the district court’s order.

“Allowing Elder and Kaki to obtain privileges while defendants pursue their appeal creates significant irreparable harm to defendants, impairs defendants’ ability to obtain relief on appeal, and is not in the public interest,” the appeal states.

Photo: zimmytws, Getty Images







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