Anesthesiology group sues Atrium Health over canceled contract: 5 things to know

Charlotte, N.C.-based Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants filed a lawsuit March 26 against Charlotte-based Atrium Health, alleging the health system and its new anesthesiology provider stole trade secrets and used that information to poach the contract from SAC, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Here are five things to know about the lawsuit.

1. Atrium Health terminated its nearly 40-year contract with SAC earlier this year, claiming SAC was not willing to lower costs or introduce a new operating model to increase savings. The contract, which expires June 30, was instead awarded to Charlotte-based Scope Anesthesia of North Carolina.

2. According to the March 26 lawsuit, SAC claims it provided the founder of Scope, Tom Wherry, MD, with large amounts of confidential information when he was hired as a consultant for Atrium last year. SAC claimed Dr. Wherry never identified himself as a competitor, the report states.

3. SAC alleged Atrium canceled their contract after the anesthesiology group refused to consent to Atrium and Dr. Wherry's plan to impose substantial cuts to the number of anesthesiologists at the health system's various facilities. SAC reportedly informed Atrium and Dr. Wherry of the dangers of their proposed recommendations and attempted "for months" to accommodate such cuts to physician staffing without compromising patient safety and care, according to The Charlotte Observer. Dr. Wherry has denied his intent to impose physician staffing cuts once Atrium's contract with Scope becomes effective.

4. The lawsuit, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages for SAC but does not disclose how much the organization's contract with Atrium was worth, mirrors concerns cited by SAC in an ad campaign and website the organization launched this past weekend to protest Atrium's decision to switch anesthesiology providers.

5. In a statement to Becker's Hospital Review March 27, Atrium Health said SAC's claims are without merit, and said it has been negotiating the contract with SAC's parent company, Sunrise, Fla.-based Mednax, for nearly 18 months.

"Atrium Health has received a complaint filed by Mednax, the corporate parent company of Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants. We believe the claims Mednax has made are without merit, and this court filing is an attempt to distract us from the true issues at hand. Unfortunately, taking their partners, as well as their very own physicians to court is common practice for Mednax.

"To provide some perspective, in recent days, Mednax has started a campaign to spread false and misleading information online and in other advertisements about Atrium Health's decision to transition anesthesia service providers. We think it is important to set the record straight, and reassure the public that we remain true to our priorities, now and always — to provide the highest quality care to every patient who walks through our doors. It's also important to note that Mednax is a for-profit company that purchased Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants for $200 million in 2010, and is beholden to its stockholders. Tactics like this are typical to companies trying to protect a sizeable book of business.

"Decisions like switching our anesthesia services provider are not ones we make lightly. We have been working since 2014 on addressing our anesthesia services program, and have been diligently negotiating for 18 months with Mednax. In the latest negotiations, the Mednax CEO [Roger Medel, MD] refused several contract provisions that would have ensured the safety of our patients and communities we are privileged to serve. This language would have protected Atrium Health and the public from Mednax anesthesiologists walking off the job due to a previous dispute and conflict with Mednax, as nearly happened this past July 2017. Ultimately, Atrium Health wasn't comfortable in partnering with a company that has workforce instability demonstrated by events like this, among other issues, and whose definition of patient safety is so drastically different than ours.  

"Atrium Health is committed more than ever to our patients and local communities. We have never compromised on quality and safety, and we never will."

To access the Charlotte Observer report, click here.

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