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Two suspended cardiologists performing angioplasties again at other Pasco hospital

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two doctors who were suspended from performing angioplasties at a Pasco hospital nearly five years ago are now performing the procedures at a nearby sister hospital.

Community Hospital, which is owned by Hospital Corporation of America, recently announced it was now offering angioplasties at its heart catheterization suite. An angioplasty is a procedure used to open coronary arteries that are clogged with plaque.

Among the six doctors listed were Sudhir Agarwal and Gopal Chalavarya. The two were among nine cardiologists suspended in 2004 from performing angioplasties at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, another HCA hospital. The doctors later filed two lawsuits against Bayonet Point. The cases are pending.

So how are two physicians with lawsuits pending against a hospital allowed to practice at another company affiliate?

A call to HCA's Nashville headquarters went unreturned.

Community Hospital spokeswoman Mary Sommise said only that the hospitals have separate licenses, as well as separate bylaws and medical staff rules.

"Physicians who meet the criteria for membership on the medical staff may apply for privileges," she wrote in a e-mail. "Once they apply, their application goes through a thorough credentialing process with ultimate approval by the Board."

She did not respond to questions about what the criteria were or what the credentialing process involves.

Community Hospital board member Thad Lowery only commented that doctors had received board approval.

Efforts to reach Chalavarya were unsuccessful. Agarwal declined to comment except to say his privileges had been restored at Bayonet Point several years ago.

A check of Bayonet Point's Web site shows both doctors with privileges. It lists their specialties as cardiovascular diseases and interventional cardiology, which includes angioplasties.

Agarwal referred questions about the lawsuit to attorney, Wil Florin, who was in a trial and did not return phone calls.

The suspensions came in 2004 after a panel of heart experts reviewed case files and found that, in some cases, the doctors performed angioplasties on arteries that were not significantly clogged, propped open clogged arteries with stents of the wrong size or type, used incorrect or inadequate medicines to treat coronary artery disease, or failed to maintain complete records.

The hospital refused to identify the doctors or release the study that led to the suspensions, but eight names appeared on the state Department of Health Web site for several days and then were removed.

In 2006, the doctors sued Bayonet Point in circuit court, alleging the motivation behind the suspensions was financial: The less expensive angioplasties were outpacing the number of costly bypass surgeries.

In 2007, the chief of staff at Bayonet Point told the St. Petersburg Times that the hospital had reinstated the privileges of three of those doctors following an internal review. It was unclear whether the hospital has since reinstated privileges for any of the other six doctors.

Two years later, the nine doctors followed with federal lawsuits that alleged racial discrimination.

The complaints said 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.

At the time, hospital officials said only that the suspensions resulted from a quality review by a third party of the hospital's catheterization lab.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Two suspended cardiologists performing angioplasties again at other Pasco hospital 06/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 7:24pm]
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