Auburn Community Hospital

Auburn Community Hospital.

Multiple former Auburn Community Hospital health care providers already alleging an inadequate response to reports of an ex-doctor's misconduct are also suggesting a high-ranking staff member lied to state investigators.

Lawsuits from Dr. Karen Odrzywolski and Dr. Gregory Serfer partly center around the allegation that administrators retaliated against the pair and several others after they attempted to speak out regarding another doctor's dangerous conduct in 2017 and 2018.

Both lawsuits also include copies of emails that appear to show a former president of the hospital medical staff, who was also serving as an ACH Board of Trustees member, made false statements to state Department of Health investigators conducting a review of complaints.

A deficiency report from the DOH and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found ACH's administration failed to take appropriate action regarding reports of the behavior of an ICU doctor — identified in the lawsuits as Dr. Jeremy Barnett, something the report said may have led to adverse patient outcomes. Barnett no longer works at the hospital.

The hospital has denied any wrongdoing and described the lawsuits as "unproven allegations" by former staff members. It has said the deficiency report pointed to some administrative documentation issues regarding personnel maters and that quality of care was not an issue.

One section of the investigators' report notes that “Staff I,” which The Citizen has confirmed to be Odrzywolski, informed Dr. Shakeel Usmani, the president of the medical staff from 2017 through 2018, of her concerns regarding Barnett via email on May 29. That email is included in both Odrzywolski's and Serfer's lawsuits.

The investigation report also states that Odrzywolski sent another email to Usmani about Barnett on Aug. 15.

Despite those emails, the report said that Usmani, referred to as "Staff D," told investigators during an interview on Aug. 20 that “no physicians had come to him/her with concerns regarding another physician. ... He/she stated there have been no concerns raised regarding the quality of care provided by (Barnett)."

In an interview last week, Serfer described that claim to The Citizen as “a bold-faced lie. ... He's known about literally every single thing that has happened and was absolutely privy to that,” Serfer said.

“He was aware of the entirety of what was going on with Dr. Barnett. I, myself, told him a multitude of times.”

Odrzywolski declined to comment on the matter to The Citizen besides offering a statement saying it was her responsibility to uphold principles of ethical conduct and defend patients.

Another person working at ACH at the time, Dan Dennis, a former nurse practitioner who cosigned Serfer's report to the state Office of Professional Medical Conduct regarding Barnett, told The Citizen he also had multiple conversations with Usmani regarding Barnett's behavior, saying Usmani was “definitely aware of the situation.”

Dennis said that Usmani, as head of the hospitalist program, would also have received electronically filed reports about Barnett. Dennis said he will also be filing his own lawsuit against the hospital shortly.

Usmani, who remains on the ACH staff, did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

The hospital issued a statement disputing the characterization of what Usmani discussed with state investigators.

“It is the hospital's understanding that Dr. Usmani did not receive any complaints regarding quality of care issues involving Dr. Barnett,” the statement says.

The statement also said the DOH inspection cited the hospital for “deficiencies related to medical staff policies and procedures for oversight,” and reiterated the fact that the plan of correction and its implementation was accepted by the DOH.

“It is important to note that the State inspectors interviewed nurses, doctors and staff, including the former doctors who have sued the hospital, and accepted our Plan of Correction,” the statement reads. “[ACH] leadership takes these matters very seriously and responded to the State's concerns in a comprehensive and expeditious fashion.”

According to the statement, Usmani served a two-year term as president of the medical staff in 2017 and 2018, which includes membership on ACH's Board of Trustees. Usmani currently serves as the director of hospitalist program at ACH.

Questions to the state DOH regarding Usmani's interview with investigators were referred to the CMS, where a spokesperson said they could not comment on the issue, citing personnel matters. The spokesperson did say that CMS' focus is on a facility's compliance with regulations, and any personnel actions would be handled internally by the facility.

Investigators also interviewed hospital CEO Scott Berlucchi and Chief Medical officer Dr. John Riccio. Berlucchi told investigators that, in response to the complaints about Barnett, he established a steering committee headed by Riccio, although a review of meeting minutes lacked documentation of discussion on Barnett, according to the report. The hospital also sent Barnett a cease-and-desist letter in June demanding his disrupting behavior stop immediately, but the investigative report doesn't say who signed that letter.

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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