Auburn Community Hospital is denying claims made in a former employee's lawsuit alleging the hospital failed to address a doctor's dangerous behavior, while an attorney for the doctor described in the lawsuit calls the complaints against him and the hospital "a settlement shakedown."
In an official response filed in U.S. District Court last week, the hospital denied the claims in a suit by Dr. Gregory Serfer that he was pressured into resigning for reporting another doctor whose behavior was cited as problematic in a state report.
Serfer's lawsuit, filed late last year, is one of three legal complaints from former employees against the hospital around the same issue. Former hospital stroke program director Dr. Karen Odrzywolski filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court last month and former intensive care unit nurse practitioner Dan Dennis filed a discrimination and hostile workplace complaint earlier this month with the state Division of Human Rights.
The cases all make similar allegations that the hospital either retaliated or failed to respond to complaints made regarding Dr. Jeremy Barnett, who worked in the ICU.
Barnett is not named as a defendant in Serfer's complaint but is in the complaints from Odrzywolski and Dennis. The law firm Gattuso and Ciotoli is representing all three plaintiffs.
Barnett has not responded to calls seeking comment, but this week a lawyer representing him emailed The Citizen and said Barnett has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the hospital and the state.
Serfer has said Barnett was the same doctor identified in a state review of the hospital on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding similar complaints. As part of that review, the hospital was required to enact a "plan of correction," the implementation of which has been accepted by the state.
Responding to the "factual background" portion of Serfer's lawsuit, the hospital denied claims that patient care was ever jeopardized or that administration acted improperly both in general and in specific instances.
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For example, the response denied a claim in Serfer's suit describing an incident in which Barnett allegedly did not act on the hospital's surgery team's recommendation to transfer a patient, eventually resulting in their death.
Based on the claims of retaliation against his whistleblowing, as well as being replaced by Barnett as ICU head while Serfer was serving with the National Disaster Medical System, Serfer's suit is seeking damages. The hospital is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Speaking with The Citizen previously, Serfer said the suit was about "the protection of the community, the protection of employees at the hospital and the common good," and taken as a last resort after previous complaints went unanswered.
The hospital's response lists nine affirmative defenses against Serfer's claims and complaints. Among others, the defenses say Serfer did not suffer damages because of the hospital and that employment actions were taken for "good-faith, legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons."
Separate from the hospital's response, in an email to The Citizen on Tuesday regarding the newspaper's coverage of the lawsuits, a lawyer for Barnett said the news coverage of the story "is ruining a good doctor for no reason other than office politics and a settlement shakedown."
Florida attorney Jennifer Kreder wrote that Serfer's lawsuit is relying on what her client believes will be the hospital's willingness to settle, without regard for Barnett.
"Those suing to extort a settlement will get what they are after no matter how much damage they do to Dr. Barnett despite the fact that he has been fully cleared," Kreder wrote.
Kreder did not provide documentation supporting the claim that Barnett has been cleared. State health officials have not yet responded to requests for comment regarding any investigations involving Barnett.
Through a spokesperson, the hospital on Wednesday said it does not comment on ongoing legal and personnel matters.
"However, we can state that the allegations made in this lawsuit are unproven and made from the perspective of a former employee. The hospital intends to address these allegations as part of the legal process," a statement sent to The Citizen said.
Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin