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Cardiologists sue Citizens, claiming racketeering, conspiracy

By JR Ortega
March 13, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 14, 2010 at 10:15 p.m.


NAMED IN SUIT

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Victoria Division, names Citizens Medical Center, David Brown, Donald Day, Joe Bland, Andrew Clemmons, Jennifer Hartman, Paul Holm, Luis Guerra and William Todd Campbell.

Judge John Rainey recused himself from the case. It is now before Judge Janis Graham Jack.

Three Victoria cardiologists are suing Citizens Medical Center for racketeering and conspiracy.

Drs. Harish Chandna, Dakshesh "Kumar" Parikh and Ajay Gaalla filed the suit Feb. 24 in federal court against hospital administrator David Brown and several board members.

The cardiologists claim the hospital conspired to exclude the physicians from practicing at Citizens. They contend the hospital's actions are economic.

"In complete disregard of federal and state law," the lawsuit states, Citizens has removed the doctors from the staff because they do not refer all of their surgical patients to Dr. Yusuke Yahagi, who performs cardiovascular surgeries exclusively at the hospital.

"My clients felt Citizens Medical Center's actions of attempting to exclude their ability to practice at Citizens Medical Center was unlawful," said Monte James, attorney for the three cardiologists.

On Thursday, a federal judge ordered a temporary injunction, which allows the cardiologists to continue practicing and referring patients to the hospital until the Feb. 2 trial, James said.

Citizens does have the ability to present additional evidence to the judge to get the injunction lifted anytime before the February trial, James added.

The settlement the cardiologists seek is not monetary, he added.

"Citizens Medical Center's actions in attempting to exclude them from practicing at Citizens Medical Center were unlawful under the law and have damaged them significantly," James said. "They're going to seek to prove that at the trial."

A memorandum about the exclusion was sent by Brown to Citizens medical staff on Feb. 17, according to court documents.

"After consideration, the Board of Directors has closed the department of cardiovascular surgery such that Dr. Yusuke Yahagi will be the exclusive provider of cardiovascular surgery," Brown wrote in the letter. "Additionally, the Board of Directors has closed the department of cardiology such that Doctors Campbell, Krueger, Oakley, Tillman, and Junor will be the exclusive provider of cardiology services at Citizens Medical Center."

The three competing cardiologists claim the attempt to exclude them is a violation of state and federal law and results in patients being denied the right to see the physician of their choice, according to court documents.

Several hospital board members declined comments Friday and referred comment to either their attorneys or Brown, who was unavailable for comment because he was out of town, said Shannon Spree, marketing coordinator for the hospital.

The cardiologists also would not comment on specifics because of ongoing litigation.

The lawsuit also claims the pressure to send all patient referrals to Citizens is evident in a December letter sent by board chairman Donald Day.

"While it is certainly in your right to exercise your medical judgment as you see fit, likewise, it is the responsibility of the Board of Directors at Citizens Medical Center to exercise their judgment as to what is in the best interest of the business of Citizens Medical Center and its patients and medical staff," Day wrote in the letter.

Tensions began to rise in between the hospital and the three cardiologists in 2007 when an increase in heart surgeons in the city sparked debate about whether more was really better.

"I think all things within reason. Competition is good. But I think there's a limit. Too many people doing cardiovascular surgery is not in the best interest of the public," Brown said in a 2007 interview with the Victoria Advocate.

James said he and his clients think keeping the competition alive in a small city is needed.

"I think that competition among healthcare providers is good and so does the federal government. If Citizens Medical Center is allowed to do what they have attempted to do, it would have the effect of limiting competition," James said. "Is that good for patients?"

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