Auburn Community Hospital

Auburn Community Hospital.

Auburn Community Hospital denies allegations of wrongdoing brought up in lawsuits filed by former doctors and says a recent state/federal deficiency report has nothing to do with the quality of care it provides.

Hospital CEO Scott Berlucchi has provided a detailed public statement on the issues that came to light over the past two weeks, the first substantive comments hospital officials have provided. 

News media coverage on the issues started with the emergence of a report from the state Department of Health on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that faulted the hospital for failing to properly respond to numerous complaints regarding a staff physician, including reports of "near misses" with patients.

That was followed by the news that a pair of former doctors have filed lawsuits against the hospital, claiming they were retaliated against for trying to bring quality of care complaints forward. One of the doctors has said more lawsuits are likely coming from additional ex-hospital physicians.

The hospital has refused to answer specific questions about the matters beyond two short statements, but has now put forward a lengthy explanation from CEO Scott Berlucchi. In his statement, Berlucchi says the DOH's inspection found "certain deficiencies related to a lack of oversight and formal documentation when addressing personnel issues," but showed no findings that the quality of care was compromised.

Berlucchi also notes that, as required by the DOH, the hospital submitted a "plan of correction" in September 2018, shortly after the state inquiry concluded in August. The DOH accepted the plan in October, and a subsequent site visit and review by the state in November found no further action was required.

While the findings of the report did not describe specific conclusions that quality of care was comprised, each section mentions that the described failures of oversight could have resulted in adverse patient outcomes.

Additionally, the section regarding the hospital's governing body did say that "the Governing Body failed to maintain oversight to ensure that all patients were provided quality care."

Berlucchi's statement also briefly responds to two separate lawsuits that allege the behavior of a former doctor at the center of the state report, Dr. Jeremy Barnett, endangered patients and the administration retaliated against the plaintiffs, also both former doctors at ACH, when they raised concerns about Barnett.

"We believe that these assertions are unproven allegations made by former employees and further, that the Hospital denies any allegations of quality of care issues or wrongdoing," the CEO statement says.

Berlucchi goes on to highlight instances of success the hospital had in 2018, include investing $1 million in interventional radiology and the opening of an infusion center as proof that the hospital remains focused on patients.

"Not only do we take care of you and your family when you have health issues, but we also employ your friends and neighbors. So yes, like every hospital in the country, we sometimes need to make adjustments, but we never lose sight that our patients are our No. 1 priority," Berlucchi's statement says.

Hospital spokesman Matthew Chadderdon said the statement from Berlucchi was approved by the ACH Board of Trustees before being issued. According to the ACH website, the board includes three physicians with oversight responsibilities who were identified in the lawsuits along with Berlucchi. Those physicians are Dr. John Riccio, who is chief medical officer; Dr. Patsy Iannolo, emergency medicine chief; and Dr. Shakeel A. Usmani, whom the lawsuits say was president of the medical staff in 2018. 

ACH Board of Trustees Chairman Anthony Franceschelli, who is not a hospital employee, could not be reached for comment for this story.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin