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Doctors file bias suit over loss of privileges at Pasco hospital

HUDSON — Lawyers for the nine cardiologists who were suspended in 2004 from performing angioplasties at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point are now accusing the hospital of racial discrimination.

Nine lawsuits, filed in federal court this week by prominent Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, say the hospital and its parent chain, HCA Inc., revoked the doctors' privileges and then failed to provide them with an appropriate appeal process because of their "race and ethnic characteristics."

Five of the cardiologists are Indian, three are Arab and one is Hispanic.

In a written statement Tuesday evening, hospital spokesman Kurt Conover said the suspensions resulted from a quality review by a third party of the hospital's catheterization lab.

"The actions we took at that time were solely to further the hospital's health care quality," he said.

The claims of discrimination are the latest twist in the nearly four-year-old dispute between the hospital and the doctors.

The federal lawsuits are separate from the pending civil cases the same doctors filed against the hospital in December 2006 in 6th Judicial Circuit Court, Cohen said Tuesday.

Those 2006 lawsuits, which do not mention racial discrimination, allege the motivation behind the suspensions was financial: The less expensive angioplasties were outpacing the number of costly bypass surgeries.

Cohen declined Tuesday to make additional comments. The new lawsuits ask for unspecified financial damages.

The latest lawsuits do not offer specific evidence of discrimination except in one allegation: HCA "required minority members" of the hospital's board of trustees to recuse themselves during a December 2004 meeting in which administrators presented the findings of the review.

That was the meeting at which administrators recommended trustees revoke the privileges of the nine cardiologists. (The findings of the review have not been made public, but the lawsuits say the consultant did not recommend taking any action against the doctors.)

The court filings do not say how many trustees recused themselves, what their names are or whether HCA gave any reasons for requiring the trustees to step aside during the presentation.

The nine cardiologists in the case are Sudhir Agarwal, Gopal Chalavarya, Charles Saniour, Adel Eldin, Mahmoud Nimer, Dipak Parekh, Thomas Mathews, Joseph Idicula and Rene Kunhardt.

Last year, the chief of staff at Bayonet Point told the Times that the hospital had reinstated the privileges of three of those doctors following an internal review. It is unclear whether the hospital has since reinstated privileges for any of the other six doctors.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Doctors file bias suit over loss of privileges at Pasco hospital 12/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:19pm]
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