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Surgeon sues McKenzie-Willamette.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

Correction (published June 9, 2015): Spine Surgery Center of Eugene is owned by Dr. Glenn Keiper and Dr. Jonathan Sherman. An article on Page B1 of Sunday's City/Region section incorrectly said the center was owned only by Keiper.

A surgeon formerly employed by the physicians group at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield is suing the hospital, claiming officials there tried to stop him from doing surgeries at facilities not controlled by the hospital.

Instead, they wanted him to do the procedures in the hospital, to generate more money for McKenzie-Willamette, the lawsuit alleges.

Dr. Kristian Ferry is alleging breach of contract, interference with his medical practice, wrongful termination and defamation. He is seeking $6 million in economic damages, plus $3.8 million in noneconomic damages for emotional distress and damage to his reputation.

McKenzie-Willamette has not yet filed a response. McKenzie-Willamette spokeswoman Jana Waterman said in a statement that the hospital does not comment on pending litigation.

Ferry filed the lawsuit in Lane County Circuit Court against McKenzie-Willamette and McKenzie Physician Services, the physicians group at the hospital. McKenzie Physician Services is a separate business, but it is controlled by the hospital and its owner, Community Health Systems, a large for-profit hospital chain based in Tennessee, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit puts a spotlight on ambulatory surgery centers, where straightforward surgeries are performed outside of hospitals and patients do not stay overnight. These centers typically are owned by doctors.

Since their inception more than 40 years ago, the centers have multiplied because they offer services at lower prices than hospitals do, and patients like the convenience, said a report by the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association.

The outpatient centers save Medicare, the government health plan for seniors, $2.6 billion a year, the report said.

In the lawsuit, Ferry alleges McKenzie-Willamette tried to stop him from scheduling some surgeries at Spine Surgery Center of Eugene, a local doctor-owned ambulatory surgery center. Instead they wanted him to perform them in the hospital.

Under his employment contract with the hospital, McKenzie-Willamette received the same amount of Ferry's professional fees for surgical services regardless of where he performed the procedure, the lawsuit said. But when he performed surgeries in the hospital, McKenzie-Willamette also was paid facility charges by the patient or by insurance, the lawsuit said.

McKenzie-Willamette "preferred that all procedures be performed at the hospital ... not because it was best for the patients or medically necessary - which it was not - but because it created the most profit for (the hospital)" the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit noted that McKenzie-Willamette ranked No. 4 on a list of "most expensive hospitals in Oregon" compiled recently by the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 350 McKenzie-Willamette workers. The union has pressed the hospital for pay increases and other improvements for workers.

Ferry said in the lawsuit that the doctors group he worked for and McKenzie-Willamette officials had authorized him to work at ambulatory surgical centers.

Ferry's employment contract with the doctors group stated that doctors should schedule procedures at the hospital, except when a patient expresses a different preference, the patient's insurer won't cover certain procedures at the hospital or the doctor determines that hospitalization is not in the patient's best medical interest, the lawsuit said.

Ferry's patients often would ask about the cost of a procedure and about less-expensive alternatives, and at least half of the time, Ferry discussed the option of ambulatory surgery centers with his patients, according to the lawsuit.

Ferry had performed procedures at ambulatory surgical centers since 2004, and he continued to do so after he became an employee of McKenzie Physicians on Aug. 1, 2012, the lawsuit said.

Since that time, Ferry had performed 25-35 percent of his surgeries at ambulatory surgical centers, the lawsuit said.

Then, in October or November 2014, hospital officials told the scheduling department at Ferry's surgical practice not to schedule his patients for procedures at the Spine Center, the lawsuit said.

And on Dec. 22, Ferry received a text from a hospital administrator telling Ferry's staff not to schedule any of his surgeries at the Spine Center and that McKenzie-Willamette CEO Chad Campbell would speak with Ferry after Campbell returned from vacation in January, the lawsuit said.

When Campbell returned, he did not try to speak with Ferry, the lawsuit said.

In January, the scheduling department of Ferry's surgical group resumed scheduling procedures by Ferry at the Spine Center, the lawsuit said.

Then on April 11, Campbell called Ferry into his office, according to the lawsuit.

Campbell, visibly angry, handed Ferry a pamphlet for the Spine Center and said, "You are fired."

Ferry had never seen the pamphlet before, according to the lawsuit.

Later, Ferry read the pamphlet and saw it contained an error: It said he owned the Spine Surgery Center.

"This was and is incorrect. Dr. Ferry did not own, nor has he ever owned, any part of the Spine Center," the lawsuit said.

A Spine Center employee had created the inaccurate pamphlet by adding Ferry's name to an existing pamphlet about the Spine Center, which is owned by neurosurgeon Dr. Glenn Keiper, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges Campbell fired Ferry without asking whether he owned the Spine Center.

After Ferry was fired, McKenzie-Willamette officials told some doctors working at the hospital that Ferry had been terminated "for cause" because he was working in an "unauthorized surgery center," the lawsuit said.

Hospital officials also have instructed Ferry's former staff to tell all patients and referring doctors' offices that "Dr. Ferry no longer works at Summit Surgery (a division of McKenzie Physician Services) and that Dr. Ferry is going through a personal transition," the lawsuit said.

That has "irreparably harmed Dr. Ferry's business and reputation," the lawsuit said.

Ferry resigned his privileges at McKenzie-Willamette on April 16, the lawsuit said.

The hospital's lawyer in a May 13 letter said Ferry was terminated "for cause" because "Dr. Ferry's outside practice at the Spine Surgery Center ... was not consented to in writing, as required by his employment agreement," and advertising for his services "directly challenged" the services provided by his employer and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, the lawsuit said.

Ferry has contacted Northwest Surgical Specialists, the only other full-service general surgery practice in the Eugene-Springfield area, to arrange for on-call coverage for his practice - a condition for him to obtain privileges to practice at PeaceHealth's Sacred Heart Medical Center, the lawsuit said.

But Northwest Surgical Specialists wasn't interested in having an on-call relationship with Ferry because they had learned that he was terminated for cause, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, in February, a former patient sued Ferry in Lane County Circuit Court, requesting $900,000 in damages.

The former patient, Bertha Maples, alleged Ferry perforated her bowel during hernia repair surgery on Feb. 28, 2013.

The surgery site became severely infected, and Maples suffered acute kidney failure and high potassium in the blood, the lawsuit said. She required corrective surgeries and nursing home care, the lawsuit alleged.

Scott O'Donnell, Ferry's attorney in the Maples case, said he will soon reply in court to that lawsuit. He said there is no connection between the two lawsuits.

Follow Sherri on Twitter @sburimcdonald. Email sherri@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Business; In a lawsuit, Dr. Kristian Ferry alleges breach of contract, interference with his medical practice, wrongful termination and defamation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 7, 2015
Words:1204
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