Ex-Swedish Health surgeon sues Seattle Times over investigation published prior to resignation

Johnny B. Delashaw Jr., MD, the former chairman of the Seattle-based Swedish Neuroscience Institute, filed a lawsuit against The Seattle Times and a physician at the institute April 11, accusing the publication of reporting libelous and defamatory information about him and engaging in a conspiracy to undermine his reputation, according to The Seattle Times.

Here are six things to know about the lawsuit.

1. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks unspecified monetary damages, an order enjoining the newspaper from publishing false statements about Dr. Delashaw, the removal of false statements about Dr. Delashaw, and a published retraction.

2. The lawsuit also seeks an order enjoining Seattle-based Swedish Health neurosurgeon Charles Cobb, MD, from issuing false statements about Dr. Delashaw. According to the complaint,  Dr. Cobb and another physician at the institution allegedly engaged in a plot to undermine Dr. Delashaw because they resented the loss of income and authority under his leadership, according to The Seattle Times.

The lawsuit does not specifically connect the alleged actions of the two physicians to the articles published by the newspaper.

3. Dr. Delashaw resigned from Swedish Health in March 2017, roughly three weeks after the newspaper published an investigation called "The Quantity of Care" exposing widespread concerns about Dr. Delashaw's practices. The state medical board suspended Dr. Delashaw's medical license in May 2017. In December 2017, a judge ruled — at Dr. Delashaw's request — to postpone his appeal hearing until April.

4. The Seattle Times investigation spurred a state investigation into the institution, which revealed the health system's Cherry Hill campus faced a plethora of issues, including oversight failures and "numerous" issues related to patient safety, according to the report. Following the investigation, the health system's CEO resigned and CMS placed Swedish Health's Medicare and Medicaid funding at risk.

4. According to the lawsuit, Dr. Delashaw claims The Seattle Times falsely said he neglected patients by performing "concurrent surgeries" to increase his pay. The Seattle Times' investigation examined surgeries that had taken place between 2013 and 2015, and described how Swedish Health allegedly changed its contracts for surgeons in the Neuroscience Institute, including Dr. Delashaw, during that time so that their compensation was based on surgical volume.

5. The lawsuit also alleges The Seattle Times used incomplete data and failed to include other data illustrating excellent patient outcomes at the institution. However, according to the newspaper, neither Dr. Delashaw nor the health system had ever requested corrections to the stories.

"We are reviewing the complaint, but we stand by the accuracy of the 'Quantity of Care' series," said Alan Fisco, president of The Seattle Times. "As this is a legal matter, we will have no further comment at this time."

To access The Seattle Times' report, click here.

Editor's note: Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Swedish Health for comment and will update the article as more information is available.

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