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Outspoken physician sues Largo Medical Center after it revokes his privileges

LARGO — A Pinellas County physician and outspoken critic of Largo Medical Center and its corporate owner says his civil rights were violated after an administrator accused him of being a "terrorist."

Kidney specialist Dr. Abraham Awwad, a Palestinian Christian, on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against Largo Medical Center over its decision to revoke his privileges to practice there. When Awwad questioned the quality of patient care at the hospital, the lawsuit states, a hospital official told him, "That's not how we do things at Largo Medical. You're practicing medicine the Palestinian way."

Largo Medical Center officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Awwad, a U.S. citizen, moved to Florida when he was 14. Before going into private practice, he completed a fellowship in nephrology at the University of South Florida.

He has publicly criticized two of the Pinellas hospitals where he has practiced — Largo Medical and Northside Hospital, both owned by the HCA hospital chain. Since 2006, Awwad has filed complaints with the state over the quality of their dialysis treatment and other patient care issues.

He claims that Largo Medical's decision to revoke his staff privileges followed one of his complaints involving a patient who died when dialysis was not started on time.

In that case, featured in a 2009 St. Petersburg Times article, the doctor ordered dialysis for a 70-year-old man with acute kidney failure, beginning no later than 6 a.m. The patient died about 11 a.m., after not receiving dialysis treatment.

State inspectors responding to Awwad's complaints found serious deficiencies in Largo Medical's dialysis program, run by an outside vendor. Awwad's actions led hospital administrators to limit his staff privileges, then revoke them entirely in May, said Awwad's attorney, John Goldsmith.

Goldsmith said Largo Medical "ran roughshod" over its own bylaws detailing how it can discipline a physician.

The state investigation at Largo Medical came less than a year after regulators suspended the dialysis program at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg following physicians' complaints about its outside dialysis provider.

Awwad said he told Northside administrators about the problem, who responded by threatening his staff privileges there. Yet he never lost privileges at Northside, his attorney said, where he can continue to practice without restriction. He also has staff privileges at Edward White Hospital and St. Petersburg General Hospital, both HCA properties, as well as St. Anthony's Hospital, all in St. Petersburg.

About 90 percent of Awwad's practice was at Largo Medical, his attorney said, noting hospitals are important referral bases for nephrologists, who often see patients for the first time when complications arise during a hospital stay.

Since his Largo Medical privileges were revoked, Awwad has significantly reduced the hours at his North Pinellas practice, leaving him mainly practicing at his south county office. He is seeking unspecified financial damages from Largo Medical.

Awwad is asking for a court injunction to restore his staff privileges there. He also wants the hospital to rescind a report it made to a national physicians' database claiming that his privileges were revoked because of poor quality of care.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.

Outspoken physician sues Largo Medical Center after it revokes his privileges 07/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 10:38pm]
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