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$117 Million: Victims of Unnecessary Heart Surgeries

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In December 2004, Tenet Healthcare Corporation, the country’s second-largest hospital chain, agreed to pay $395 million to victims of unnecessary heart surgeries performed at Redding Medical Center. The treating cardiologists agreed to pay a total of $24 million. GJEL Accident Attorneys represented 186 plaintiffs out of the 769 patients or estates involved in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs claimed that doctors at Redding Medical Center performed unnecessary cardiac catheterizations and bypass surgeries on them. The scandal erupted after FBI agents raided the medical center in October 2002 and discovered that hundreds of its surgical patients’ medical records did not support the need for surgery. Some of the plaintiffs’ complications from the surgeries included stroke, paralysis, and heart attack. Many patients now require assisted living, and 94 of the patients have died. The plaintiffs sued for fraud, battery, negligence, and elder abuse, as most of the plaintiffs ranged in age from 65 to 90. The estates of the 94 patients who died sued for wrongful death.

The amount each plaintiff received, which remains confidential, differed depending on the severity of treatment, age, and complicating factors.

As a result of its investigation by state and federal authorities for its practices in Redding, Tenet Healthcare settled with government investigators during the summer of 2004, and agreed to pay an additional $54 million fine. Tenet has since sold the hospital.

More information about the case is contained in two news stories below:


Tenet Settles Over Unnecessary Surgeries

By Erik Cummins, San Francisco Daily Journal

Tenet Healthcare Care Corp., the country’s second-largest hospital chain, agreed Tuesday to pay $395 million to settle complaints that doctors at its former facility in Redding performed unnecessary heart procedures on healthy patients.

The Texas company will establish a fund to compensate 769 plaintiffs who filed suit in Shasta County Superior Court. In re: Tenet Healthcare Cases Ill. JCCP 4301.

“This is a huge amount of money – it’s fair,” said Luke Ellis, an Orinda lawyer representing 186 former Tenet patients. “I think [Tenet] really stepped up to the plate. We could have been litigating this for decades.”

Trevor Fetter, Tenet’s president and chief executive officer, said the settlement puts an end to a sad chapter for the hospital chain and patients of the former Redding Medical Center.

“By settling all the cases at once, we put this matter behind both the plaintiffs and us, and we bring closure to this unfortunate event,” Fetter said.

Nancy Hersh, a plaintiffs personal injury lawyer with Hersh & Hersh in San Francisco, likened the outcome to recent multimillion-dollar settlements in Catholic priest molestation cases.

“But here, you have intentional injury for profit,” said Hersh, who represents plaintiffs in medical device and drug cases. “The conduct in the Redding case was quite egregious.”

Russell Reiner, a lawyer with Redding’s Reiner, Simpson, Timmons & Slaughter, represents 345 former patients of Redding Medical Center. “My clients and their families suffered horrible complications,” Reiner said. “These were completely healthy people with no heart problems.”

Ellis, a partner at Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen, said his clients suffered complications including stroke, heart attacks, infections and paralysis. Ninety-four of the 769 plaintiffs have died.

Problems at the hospital began to surface in 2002, when a former patient tipped off the FBI that the facility had been billing the state and federal governments for unnecessary angiograms and heart bypass and valve surgeries.

At first, news of the investigation outraged residents of the region, who supported the doctors and the hospital. Many former patients and their families rallied at the Shasta County courthouse and a local mall against the allegations, Reiner said.

The doctors, he said, had been advertised by Tenet as among the country’s best, and they had performed thousands of operations during the 1990s and the early part of this decade.

“Some of our clients were at those rallies – until they found out they had been lied to by these surgeons and in no way needed the surgery,” Reiner said.

Public opinion began to change several months following an October 2002 FBI raid, when Tenet paid $54 million to settle the billing fraud investigation.

Next, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would cut federal funding for the hospital unless Tenet sold the facility. In June, Tenet completed a sale to Hospital Partners of America, Inc.

In January, Dr. Chae Hyun Moon, a cardiologist and members of the center’s former Cardiology Associates of Northern California settled with their former patients for an undisclosed amount. Moon is no longer practicing medicine.

With the latest settlement, Reiner said, “the community will see this was a horrific tragedy.”

The settlement does not resolve claims against a group of former surgeons at the Redding hospital, now called the Shasta Regional Medical Center.

“We intend on seeing the matter through the court system,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Sacramento lawyer for Dr. Fidel Realyvazquez, Jr., the doctor who led the Redding cardiovascular surgery team. “We have no intention of settling these cases.”

Realyvazquez “is a skilled and caring physician, only providing necessary and appropriate cardiovascular care,” he said. “He hopes to return to his practice.”

Ellis said the surgeons were most at fault for his clients’ injuries.

“They had the responsibility and opportunity to understand and see,” he said.

Realyvazquez has taken time off from his practice to help defend the case, Zimmerman said. The first trial against Realyvazquez and three fellow surgeons is set for July 25 in Shasta County Superior Court.


Tenet Settles Bogus Heart Surgery Claims

By Jeff Chorney, The Recorder

Tenet Healthcare Corp. has agreed to pay $395 million to settle 769 claims that doctors at its Redding hospital performed unnecessary heart surgeries.

The massive settlement – which must still be approved by 95 percent of the plaintiffs and a Shasta County judge – will end litigation against the health care giant in connection with the surgeries.

Once approved, the settlement money will immediately go into an interest-accruing fund, and plaintiffs can expect to see payouts as early as January, said Luke Ellis of Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen of Orinda, which represents 186 of the plaintiffs.

Ellis noted that the cases were resolved relatively quickly. The questionable surgeries came to light when FBI agents raided Tenet’s Redding Medical Center in October 2002, and many of the lawsuits were filed just last year.

“You could spend years litigating these cases,” Ellis said. Since the alleged victims range in age from mid-60s to 90, he said, a protracted legal battle would have meant that many of them would “never get a chance to have [their] day in court.”

In a statement, Trevor Fetter, Tenet’s president and chief executive officer, characterized the settlement as “the fair and honorable way to conclude this very sad chapter.”

How much money each plaintiff will receive is confidential, and Ellis declined to discuss attorneys’ fees. The lawyers did not seek class action status, he said, because it’s hard to make personal injury fit into that rubric. “Every injury is different,” said Ellis. “Every injury is complicated.”

Since the Redding scandal erupted, Tenet has come under fire for its medical and business practices at other California hospitals. The company has since sold the Redding facility.

Along with the plaintiff suits, Tenet was also under investigation by state and federal authorities for its practices in Redding. It settled with government investigators over the summer for $54 million.

In addition, plaintiff lawyers sued a number of physicians in connection with the heart operations. They reached a confidential agreement with cardiologists several months ago, and litigation against four surgeons is slated to begin next summer. Ellis said there are 10 “test” cases against the surgeons. As soon as those play out, the other cases against the surgeons will likely settle.

Of the 769 plaintiffs, most are former patients, but 94 are surviving family members who filed wrongful death cases.

Ellis said he didn’t expect to have any trouble getting plaintiffs to sign on to the agreement.

“I think when people realize what this means to them,” they will agree, he said. “It will change their life in a major way.”

The procedures at issue include bypasses, valve replacements, and catheterizations. Ellis said they often created additional medical problems and caused depression in those who underwent them.

“The heart is a metaphysical part of your body. It’s not just an organ,” he said.

The lead plaintiff is Redding’s Reiner, Simpson, Timmons & Slaughter. Also representing plaintiffs are Barr & Mudford of Redding, and Moriarty & Leyendecker of Houston, Texas.

San Francisco behemoth Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein represents 10 plaintiffs. Ellis said they were also included in the settlement.

The case is In re Tenet Healthcare Ill, J.C.C.P. 4301.


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