St. Luke’s investigates doctors who spoke to the News TribuneSt. Luke’s hospital is investigating three Duluth doctors to determine if they violated the hospital’s bylaws by speaking to the News Tribune for an Aug. 1 story critical of one of its former neurosurgeons.
St. Luke’s hospital is investigating three Duluth doctors to determine if they violated the hospital’s bylaws by speaking to the News Tribune for an Aug. 1 story critical of one of its former neurosurgeons.
Doctors Peter Goldschmidt, David McKee and Joel Zamzow were sent a letter dated Oct. 18 informing them of the investigation to determine whether they violated a hospital bylaw that “prohibits conduct disruptive to Hospital operations, including inappropriate access to or disclosure of confidential information and an unjustified refusal to follow Hospital rules, policies and/or procedures.”
The doctors, who have privileges to practice at St. Luke’s and are listed on the hospital’s physician directory on its website, were given several dates to appear before a St. Luke’s investigative committee by the end of October. The letter cited hospital bylaws stating the doctors are not allowed to have an attorney present, provide evidence or present witnesses when they appear before the committee.
In the Aug. 1 story, “As Duluth hospital reaped millions, surgeon racked up complaints,” Goldschmidt, an orthopedic surgeon who practices at Orthopedic Associates, and McKee, a neurologist who practices at Northland Neurology and Myology, both were quoted as being critical of the care provided by former St. Luke’s neurosurgeon Stefan Konasiewicz, who practiced at the hospital from 1997 to 2008. In 2010, Konasiewicz was disciplined for “unethical and unprofessional conduct” by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.
The News Tribune quoted both Goldschmidt and McKee as saying that they brought their concerns about Konasiewicz to St. Luke’s administrators.
In the article, hospital CEO John Strange was quoted as saying that the responsibility to deal with doctors lies with the hospital’s medical executive committee, which is composed of its own physicians.
McKee said he will go before the St. Luke’s investigative committee today.
“It’s disturbing to me that those who were in a position to do something about (Konasiewicz) are investigating the physicians who raised concerns,” McKee said.
Goldschmidt declined to comment for this article; Zamzow could not be reached for comment.
When asked for comment on the investigations, St. Luke’s responded in a statement: “As we have previously stated, St. Luke’s Medical Staff has an ongoing peer review process as part of our Quality Improvement Program. Federal and state laws require this peer review process be confidential. We are prohibited by state and federal law from discussing peer review matters. For this reason, we are unable to confirm or deny or comment about the existence of any peer review investigations.”
St. Luke’s and Strange have filed a lawsuit against the News Tribune and the reporters who wrote the Aug. 1 article about Konasiewicz. In their suit, the hospital and its CEO claim that the statements made by Goldschmidt, McKee and Zamzow were false. St. Luke’s and Strange also allege that the three doctors should have communicated concerns about Konasiewicz in writing, and that had they done so they would have “been prohibited by state peer review law from discussing the complaint with (the News Tribune).”
However, as long as the doctors didn’t discuss any specific patient information with the News Tribune, they did not violate the state’s peer review laws, according to Chris Messerly, a Twin Cities attorney who has been involved in malpractice cases for more than 25 years.
“If there is a general alarm sounded by health-care providers that a physician is hurting people and is a bad doctor, there’s nothing in Minnesota’s peer review statute that would prevent someone from sounding an alarm on that, or even critiquing a hospital on how they credential doctors,” he said.
Messerly said hospitals often seek to silence physicians who speak out about poor practices.
“I don’t know what St. Luke’s intent is,” he said. “It seems to me that a hospital would want to thank physicians for being open and honest.”