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Children’s Hospital in Omaha Under Fire for “Atrocious” Conduct

By Jason Bottlinger on January 11, 2019

“To improve the life of every child: At Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, this is our mission – and it’s the heart of everything we do.”

An unflattering spotlight has been cast on Children’s Hospital in Omaha after a lawsuit with serious allegations was filed on Friday, January 4th.

The two plaintiffs, neurosurgeon Mark J. Puccioni and plastic surgeon Jason Miller, accuse the hospital of firing them for reporting to administrators that another neurosurgeon’s malpractice killed a 7-month-old baby. The hospital’s CEO, Dr. Richard G. Azizkhan, and the neurosurgeon in question, Dr. Adam M. Conley, are also named as defendants.

Dr. Adam Conley was hired by Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in 2017, but it wasn’t long before Dr. Mark Puccioni, a pediatric neurosurgeon with 17 years of experience practicing at Children’s, voiced doubts about Dr. Conley’s abilities. At this time, not only did administrators fail to respond, they investigated Dr. Puccioni for alleged drug abuse – a rumor started by Dr. Conley. Though Puccioni passed a drug test, the hospital tried to force him to take a second test and have a psychological evaluation. There is no question in Dr. Puccioni’s mind that this was in retaliation for speaking up. The hospital took no action in regard to Dr. Conley.

The climax occurred in the fall of 2018, when Dr. Conley lost a 7-month-old patient on the operating table. According to the complaint later filed by Drs. Puccioni and Miller, “Dr. Conley lost control of the bleeding caused by his incisions. At one point he reportedly poured a significant quantity of hydrogen peroxide directly into the cranial cavity to stop the bleeding. This is not an acceptable surgical practice.” Any lawyer could tell you this would be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit, and the hospital would have known it.

Immediately after the death, Dr. Puccioni and Dr. Miller wrote letters to the hospital’s administrators, expressing shock and outrage over Dr. Conley’s performance and advising that he was unfit to operate on patients. Two days later, their privileges to practice medicine at Children’s Hospital were revoked.

Though the physician board voted unanimously to reinstate privileges for Dr. Miller at once, CEO Richard Azizkhan, who revoked their privileges in the first place, vetoed and would not reinstate them. In addition, Dr. Azizkhan threatened to report the suspensions to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The surgeons were forced to resign from Children’s Hospital.

The lawsuit, filed in the District Court of Douglas County, alleges that the hospital and Dr. Azizkhan:

  1. Tried to interfere with Dr. Puccioni’s and Dr. Miller’s business practice. (For example, after they were fired, one mother went to her checkup with Dr. Puccioni at the hospital and was rescheduled with Dr. Conley instead.)
  2. Deceived patients who wanted to reach Dr. Puccioni and Dr. Miller.
  3. Wrongfully terminated Dr. Puccioni and Dr. Miller in retaliation for speaking up.
  4. Caused deliberate emotional harm by lying about them, threatening them, and trying to ruin their reputations.

In response to this lawsuit and its attendant publicity, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center released a statement, reading:

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center does not comment on pending litigation other than to say we strongly disagree with these allegations. We stand behind our executive leadership, medical team, and our processes, and are confident that these claims against our hospital, Dr. Azizkhan and Dr. Conley will be proven to be without merit.

We are also saddened by the manner in which this family’s tragic loss has been utilized by the plaintiffs in this litigation. We have spoken with the family to express our shock with the way this extremely personal and painful situation has been publicized.

Why would a hospital turn on one of its doctors for the sake of another? Dr. Mark J. Puccioni is certified by both The American Board of Neurological Surgery and The American Board of Pediatric Neurological Surgery. Dr. Jason Miller is a board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in pediatric craniofacial reconstruction. Dr. Adam Conley was only licensed by the State Board of Nebraska in May 2017 and prior to that, held a training certificate license in Ohio.

The answer doesn’t lie in any of these doctors’ abilities, certifications, or years of experience. It lies in where they practice.

Dr. Puccioni and Dr. Miller believe this whole mess—from covering up Conley’s malpractice to threatening and forcing them to resign—has to do with money. “Children’s Hospital has been engaged in a campaign to ‘own and control’ the medical practices of physicians who provide services inside the hospital…. physicians who are employed by, and whose practices are owned by Children’s Hospital, offer a more profitable and predictable stream of revenue. This is true even if the captive physician is less skilled or devoted.”

For some administrators, how much money a doctor brings into the hospital is more important than “rocking the boat” and addressing concerns that may scare patients.

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We suspect many other families are probably questioning the care they received at Children’s Hospital right now, and probably rightfully so. Around 138,500 patients were treated at the hospital and its clinics in 2017 alone. In light of this lawsuit, there is good cause to question many medical decisions and management protocols.

Children’s Hospital of Omaha should be focused on treating patients, not making money for administrators. For more information about this case, or to report suspected negligence at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, please call Bottlinger Law L.L.C. at (402) 505-8234.

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Posted in: Medical Malpractice

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