Jefferson ED chief disciplined, accused of leaving shift without notifying anyone

Theodore Christopher, MD, the head of emergency medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, has been disciplined after he reportedly left a first-year resident unattended so he could go to a different area of the hospital for a diagnostic procedure he needed. During the procedure, he was put under anesthesia, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Jan. 30.

The procedure was scheduled during his daytime shift Oct. 30 and his absence left his direct reports and resident physicians searching for another supervising physician to guide them. Dr. Christopher did not communicate about his absence to the on-call physician or those who reported to him, the Inquirer reported. The outlet says it acquired the information from three hospital sources who wished to remain anonymous.  

While patient care was prioritized and not affected, the situation concerned many, particularly since Dr. Christopher, the leader of the department, was absent from his job. 

The hospital subsequently placed him on leave throughout November.

At a December staff meeting once he returned, Dr. Christopher apologized to his staff for not following proper protocols. 

A spokesperson for the hospital told Becker's that "Dr. Theodore Christopher was experiencing an acute medical condition," on the day he left his post.  The spokesperson noted that he did take steps that day to confirm patients under his care were stable.  

"There were no negative impacts on patient care and accepted standards of patient care and resident physician supervision were followed," the spokesperson confirmed. 

Dr. Christopher self-reported that he did not personally contact a back-up attending physician. However, another member of the department contacted back-up. Accordingly, there was no change to the usual staffing levels. There were also reported to be multiple attending physicians on-site and patients were always under attending physician care.

However, according to the Inquirer, the emergency medicine leader had a record of leadership issues, including being unavailable at times during scheduled shifts. 

Internal investigation documents obtained by the Inquirer revealed that management complaints and allegations of gender discrimination have also been made against Dr. Christopher. However, ultimately the investigation did not find him at fault, but recommended other department changes instead.

In 2020, the health system also had an external law firm investigate conduct allegations against Dr. Christopher and found that many residents and physicians interviewed for the report said they felt "there is a lack of leadership, primarily by the chair, or that they do not trust leadership."  

The 2020 investigation did not confirm the allegations, according to the Inquirer.

The most recent complaint against the physician will be investigated internally, and if findings of misconduct are discovered, it will move forward to the state's Board of Medicine. 

The spokesperson for Jefferson University Hospital also shared that it "is committed to fostering a secure and inclusive work environment that values and respects the contributions of every employee," adding that the system takes "allegations of discrimination seriously."

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