SUNY Downstate faces 4th lawsuit alleging inadequate cardiac patient care, retaliation against surgeons

A cardiothoracic surgeon has filed a lawsuit against SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City, alleging that he was fired after he notified leadership about patient safety and quality issues — the fourth such lawsuit filed against the hospital.

Robert Poston, MD, filed his lawsuit in the Brooklyn Supreme Court July 28, after three other lawsuits that also alleged retaliation from hospital leaders after the plaintiffs reported patient care concerns.

The other suits were filed in December, January and February, The City reports. The first two lawsuits were filed by Rainer Gruessner, MD, SUNY Downstate's former surgery department chairman, and John Renz, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon, and the third lawsuit was filed by Frederic Joyce, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Dr. Gruessner was stripped of his title, and the other two physicians were fired.

The four lawsuits claim that there were significant shortfalls in the hospital's cardiac surgery and transplant programs.

The most recent lawsuit filed by Dr. Poston alleges that the hospital did not meet staffing requirements for the cardiac surgery program, and that on May 26, a patient died, "at least in part, as a result of no in-house cardiothoracic-trained physician assistant."

The prior lawsuits alleged incidents of misreported patient deaths and patients who died due to improper medication levels and "a lack of actual patient care."

They also claim that there were instances where a surgeon left a transplant patient on the operating table, and the attending physician was not present and could not be contacted, The City reports.

"The issues and concerns raised by Dr. Poston and others were embarrassing to senior administration, which had had ample opportunity to address them. Rather than doing so, senior administration retaliated against Dr. Poston and others by terminating their employment," the most recent lawsuit states.

The four surgeons are seeking their lost compensation, a reinstatement of their positions and compensatory damages, The City reports.

In a statement emailed to Becker's, SUNY Downstate said that independent outside consultants "identified troubling issues associated with the program leadership of two of our surgical programs."

The hospital temporarily inactivated both programs while reviews and reorganization were underway. It has reactivated its kidney transplant program, and "continue[s] to refine the reorganization of the heart transplant program."

"While we do not comment on pending litigation, I want to stress that the priority of our hospital is, and continues to be, providing the highest quality care to all our patients," Dawn Walker, associate vice president of communications and marketing, stated.

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