California hospital medical staff sues Dignity Health over contract terminations

The medical staff of St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., filed a lawsuit June 16 against the hospital and its operator, San Francisco-based Dignity Health. 

The lawsuit lists several actions the administration at the hospital and Dignity Health have taken that allegedly violate multiple laws intended to protect quality of patient care, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. The actions allegedly occurred since 2018, when California's attorney general approved the merger of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives. 

The complaint alleges that St. Mary Medical Center and Dignity Health have violated state regulations that allow medical staff to provide input on the potential termination of exclusive provider contracts, according to the report. The complaint specifically mentions a plan to terminate a contract with the group that provides services in the hospital's emergency department. 

"In the midst of a national public health emergency and as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb in Long Beach, and despite strenuous opposition from community members and petitioner, respondent St. Mary Medical Center forges ahead with its controversial and illegal plan to terminate the exclusive services contract of the ER physician group that has dutifully and effectively served the hospital and community for more than 40 years," reads the complaint. 

The medical staff alleges that the most recent contract termination and prior contract terminations are eroding the ability of physicians at the hospital to provide independent, quality healthcare to their patients. 

The medical staff's complaint includes several requests, including for the judge to order the hospital to maintain the existing makeup of the medical staff and its medical executive committee, obtain advice of the medical executive committee before termination of any additional exclusive contracts, comply will all requirements of the medical staff bylaws pertaining to the medical staff's rights for oversight of the quality of patient care at the hospital and for its self-governance. 

The hospital and Dignity Health have denied any wrongdoing. 

"SMMC believes these claims are without merit," St. Mary Medical Center CEO Carolyn Caldwell said in a June 17 statement to the Press-Telegram

"After a lengthy process, a new ER group was brought in," Ms. Caldwell told the Press-Telegram. "It's important to note that the majority of current ER physicians have been hired by the new group." 

A trial-setting conference is slated for Sept. 25, according to the report. 

Access the full Press-Telegram article here

More articles on legal and regulatory issues:
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Judge refuses to approve pension plan deal requiring Dignity to pay up to $747M

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