Ventura-Based Community Memorial Hospital Medical Staff a Legal Entity, Can Proceed With Lawsuit, Judge Rules
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh yesterday ruled that the medical staff at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura is a legal entity and that the lawsuit filed by the staff in April against the hospital can proceed, the Los Angeles Times reports (Kelley, Los Angeles Times, 8/8). Physicians at the hospital filed the lawsuit on April 24 over allegations that hospital administrators tried to influence a staff election in November, adopted an 18-page code of conduct intended to silence opposition, implemented a conflict of interest policy to disqualify certain physicians from leadership positions and illegally allowed physicians to practice at the hospital without a review by the staff. Their case has received support from the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association, which have donated more than $100,000 to underwrite the lawsuit (California Healthline, 8/4). In a three-page decision, Walsh said that the physicians could proceed with their claim that the hospital illegally seized a $250,000 bank account maintained by the staff and to continue their objections to the hospital code of conduct. However, he ruled that other allegations, such as unfair business practices, hospital retaliation and interference with staff affairs may not affect the entire staff; as a result, the physicians would have to redraft and refile those claims with the court by Sept. 5, Walsh ruled. Attorneys for the physicians said that they would refile most of the dismissed claims.
Charles Bond, an attorney for the physicians, said that decision yesterday sends the message that "if hospitals engage in excesses, medical staffs have legal recourse." Peter Goldenring, an attorney for the hospital, said that the decision reduced the lawsuit to "two core issues: who gets to control money and who gets to control physician behavior at the hospital." Goldenring added, "The most important thing is for the public to know this has nothing to do with the quality of care." The case is the first in the state to focus on "whether a hospital medical staff's traditional role as a self-governing branch of a hospital is a legal responsibility rather than one bestowed by hospital trustees," the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 8/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.