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AMA HOLDS WITH DOCS HOSPITAL BOARD'S POLICY CAUSING CONSTERNATION FOR STAFF.

Byline: Grace Lee Staff Writer

The American Medical Association's policy board on Tuesday backed area doctors in their legal fight with management at Ventura's Community Memorial Hospital - a fight that could set a precedent for patient-care issues nationwide.

The vote, taken at the AMA's meeting in Chicago, gives the AMA's backing - and possibly dollars - to doctors on staff who filed suit against Community Memorial in April. The suit claims the medical center violated state laws requiring medical staff self-governance by adopting new policies without consulting them.

The hospital's board of directors put in place a conflict-of-interest policy that prohibits any doctor with a competing financial interest from voting as a staff member or serving as a staff officer.

``We suspect there's a move on the part of (hospital administrators) to assert more dominion over medical staff,'' said Gerald Schiff, a California representative to the AMA who chairs the committee on doctor-administration relations.

Dr. Michael Sexton, chairman of the California Medical Association board of trustees, said that the new policy jeopardizes not only the autonomy of doctors but ultimately their right to a final say in the care of their patients.

``You don't want the person defining quality care in the hospital to be the person responsible for the bottom line of finances,'' Sexton said.

CMA, which describes the lawsuit on its Web site as one that ``may become the most important lawsuit in the history of California medical staffs,'' has already committed its support for the physicians, raising money for legal fees against the medical center.

Lowell Brown, one of the attorneys representing the hospital, said the common sense of a conflict-of-interest policy is ``as clear as day to anyone who thinks about it.''

He said it was reasonable to expect that doctors who have competing surgical centers would not hold leadership positions in the hospital that would give them access to sensitive financial information.

Nor, he added, are doctors the only ones who have an ethical responsibility to patients.

``This is a not-for-profit hospital with a charitable mission,'' he said.

Peter Goldenring, another attorney representing the hospital, has said the hospital conflict stems from a small group of doctors motivated by financial gain.

Dr. Brian Branter, a member of the hospital staff for 22 years, said administrators revoked his staff privileges after he said he needed more time to review the new bylaws. He alleges that the bylaws were retaliation against outspoken doctors who had criticized the administration and were voted to staff leadership positions.

Doctors needed to be independent from administrators because, he argued, they had an obligation to deliver patient care regardless of the profit margin. In addition, he said, doctors had to be autonomous to act as watchdogs for patients.

A Ventura County Superior Court judge, while deliberating on his ruling, ordered that Branter be allowed to perform surgeries at the hospital. He also ordered Branter to agree to the new bylaws until he made his ruling. Schiff said that the battle has the potential to affect patients even before a ruling is rendered.

``On the simplest level, if you're a patient in a hospital, open warfare between the hospital and doctors is bad,'' he said.

It's not necessarily bad for competing hospitals, however. The president of St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard gave Community Memorial's executive director Michael Bakst the award usually reserved for doctors who have contributed most to the hospital.

Michael Murray said Bakst was singularly responsible for the increase in St. John's increase in patient load. He couldn't quantify the increase in procedures but said he was grateful.

Grace Lee, (805) 662-6757

grace.lee(at)dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 18, 2003
Words:606
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