Evil Hospital by Pat Conrad MD

Years ago, I read the story of a local town councilman who was arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute. He was released and immediately proclaimed his innocence in the local paper, and posed for a hilarious front-page photo … with his pastor. It’s one of my axioms in life that any politician accused of a crime that then trots out his preacher is automatically guilty.

Dr. Miguel Gomez, III has just won a $6.4 million judgment against Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, Texas. Dr. Gomez “was a star at Memorial Hermann hospital, a cardiothoracic surgeon who did cutting-edge heart procedures that used precise, tireless robot arms and lowered costs significantly… as chairman of both the surgery and cardiovascular departments, becoming a high profile physician whose pioneering work was promoted by Memorial Hermann in seminars, radio shows and speaking engagements.”

So why did Gomez sue the hospital? He claims Memorial Hermann was “placing business and profits before patient care.” He claims administrators used unqualified people and did not properly supply operating rooms. Gomez started alleging compromised patient care in 2009, and “About the same time, according to court documents and interviews, Gomez was visited by Memorial Hermann administrators who presented data that allegedly showed Gomez’s patients had a higher mortality rate than those of other surgeons. They ordered Gomez to either stop practicing or only operate under the supervision of another surgeon. Gomez, however, examined the data and found irregularities. The outcome of his regular patients had been combined with “last-hope” emergency patients who faced next to no chance of living without extraordinary measures, according to court documents. He later discovered the statistics also included a deceased patient who wasn’t his, according to court papers.”

Gomez alleges a whisper campaign began against him after he left for a new job at Houston Methodist Hospital, and that word began to spread that patients were more likely to die on his OR table. Referrals to Gomez dropped radically – as they had to Jo Pollack, a breast cancer surgeon who had also run afoul of Herman executives some years before. Gomez states that Memorial Hermann was spreading baseless accusations in order to keep market share from transferring to rival Houston Methodist. Hermann and the Texas Hospital Association both defend the peer review process as protecting patient care. Hermann was so interested in protecting patient care that they fought for almost three years, and all the way to the state supreme court to prevent the release of peer review records which Gomez claimed would show evidence of restraint of trade.

Gomez stated in addition to significant revenue losses, his reputation has been badly damaged. I’m not a lawyer and have not read all the briefs, filings, and opposing experts in his case, but I’m inclined to believe Gomez. Sure the story is believable, and any large hospital will definitely play hardball with puny mortals that criticize them.

But beyond that, Memorial Hermann released a statement after the verdict that included:

  • “our focus on quality data has never been about singling out one specific physician or physicians; rather we rely on that data to form the basis for our process, the same process widely accepted and utilized nationwide, to evaluate and improve the quality of care provided”
  • “In 2012, Memorial Hermann became the first health System in Texas to be awarded the prestigious Eisenberg Patient Safety Award, an award presented by the National Quality Forum and The Joint Commission which recognized us as leaders in delivering safe, effective health care with a patient-centered focus.”

I am too cynical to believe any organization using these buzzwords of “quality” and “patient-centered.” And anyone bragging about Joint Commission recognition is at best, trying to fool an ignorant public. That is the equivalent of getting caught and dragging your preacher to the press conference.