By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Cardiologists Dr. Mahir Elder and Dr. Amir Kaki filed a lawsuit against DMC Receiving Hospital alleging the hospital’s administration cost-cutting and physician incompetence led to their termination and deaths of patients.
The doctors said they were fired in October in retaliation for complaining about dirty surgical instruments, three unnecessary heart procedures leading to patient deaths, improper or fraudulent insurance billing, lack of staff, and cutbacks for support services, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit provided an example of quality-of-care relating to a cost-cutting measure from 2018. It alleges DMC unilaterally removed the “stat blood lab from the cardiac catheterization unit at Harper Hospital” which “created an immediate and serious patient safety issue, as time is of the essence in receiving blood work results for cardiac patients.”
The lawsuit continued to say that, “One patient died because his high potassium levels were not reported to the cardiac team for hours.”
Crains Detroit reported that the lawsuit alleges that DMC owes Elder $30,000 for services rendered for nuclear testing to the benefit of DMC for DMC employees and that Kaki is owed $80,000 in withheld wages for services performed as part of Cardio Team One and as the director of DMC’s anticoagulation clinic during 2018.
“Also, the lawsuit asks for unspecified compensation from DMC for work in the hospital’s continuity clinic, training fellows and for administrator fees,” Crains Detroit wrote. “Under the False Claims Act, Kaki and Elder are asking for reinstatement to their former positions, double damages for back pay and interest, along with attorneys’ fees withheld wages for services performed.”
In addition to DMC Receiving Hospital, the doctor’s are also suing DMC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Anthony Tedeschi, Former DMC Detroit Receiving, DMC Harper University and DMC Hutzel Women’s hospitals CEO Scott Steiner, Sinai-Grace Hospital CEO Conrad Mallet, Tenet Healthcare Corp. and former Tenet President of Hospital Operations Eric Evans in the lawsuit filed March 25 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Michigan.
The DMC issued a statement in response to the lawsuit March 25. “We do not comment on pending litigation,” the statement read. “As we’ve said previously, we asked Drs. Elder and Kaki to step down from their administrative leadership roles in the DMC cardiovascular service line in October 2018 due to violations of our standards of conduct. Any suggestion that these leadership transitions were made for reasons other than violations of our standards of conduct is false.”
Elder, Kaki and Dr. Tamam Mohamad practice out of the Heart & Vascular Institute in Dearborn, Detroit and Southfield, but lost their cardiology leadership roles at DMC on Oct. 1.
DMC asked Elder, Kaki, Mohamad and Dr. Ted Schreiber to resign their posts for violations of the hospital system’s standards of conduct which were not specified.
According to the Detroit News, the problems were included in complaints by fellow doctors, the hospital system said. Elder and Kaki claimed they were filed in retaliation for the complaints they made about quality of care at DMC in numerous emails to the hospital system’s leaders.
Steiner only said the three doctors were asked to step down, “after an extensive review of complaints received from physicians and team members.”
Inspections were held at Harper University Hospital and Detroit Receiving Hospital in October and December when the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined the hospitals did not meet federal requirements for their “physical environment” to participate in Medicare, the federal health insurance program for elderly and disabled Americans.
As reported by Crains Detroit, DMC Receiving Hospital was reinspected in February and March and were informed the hospital was in compliance with Medicare conditions of participation in the program.
In the October inspection, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs found flying insects in an intensive care unit, improperly attired surgical personnel and lapses in sterile processing of surgical instruments at Harper University Hospital, the Detroit News reported.
“Inspectors discovered the hospital had discontinued surveillance of most surgical site infections because of staff cuts in 2018, as well as other infection control problems,” the article read.
Harper could lose federal funding in mid-April as a result of the failed inspections. Also, Sinai-Grace Hospital could lose federal funding in August if the hospital doesn’t pass an inspection which corrects problems with infection control, according to the Detroit News.
In 2016, the Detroit News obtained more than 200 pages of internal emails and reports indicating that surgeons and staff have complained for at least 11 years about improperly cleaned, broken and missing instruments. Several hospitals in the DMC system failed state and federal inspections, but the hospital system said in May 2017 that the dirty instrument issues were fixed.
According to the Detroit News, fixes came after DMC spent $1.2 million on “new and replacement equipment, hired additional sterilization staff, fine-tuned the chemicals used to clean instruments, and reconfigured the processes that govern when, how and by whom surgical instruments travel from operating rooms through various stages of cleaning and back again.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)