Negligence at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha
Dr. Richard G. Azizkhan, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, is quoted on their website as saying: "An organizational culture focused on patient safety has been critical to our team’s success."
But two highly respected doctors formerly employed by the Omaha hospital strongly disagree, and a lack of concern over patient safety is at the root of their wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Children’s Hospital, Dr. Richard Azizkhan, and another doctor they accuse of medical malpractice on January 4, 2019.
Dr. Jason Miller, a board-certified plastic surgeon, and Dr. Mark J. Puccioni, a board-certified pediatric neurosurgeon, claim in their lawsuit they were harassed, threatened, suspended, and forced to resign because they told hospital administrators that a coworker, Dr. Adam M. Conley, botched a surgery and lost a 7-month-old patient on the operating table. In 17 years of practice at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Dr. Puccioni has never had a patient die during surgery. (Dr. Conley has only been practicing since he received his Nebraska medical license in May 2017.)
Both doctors, prior to this fatal operation, had expressed concerns about Dr. Conley’s abilities to administrators. No action was taken.
According to Miller and Puccioni’s complaint, during the neurosurgery on the 7-month-old child in the fall of 2018, "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."
"Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni complained of absolute malpractice that caused the unnecessary death of a child. But Children's had a monetary interest in protecting that physician," their attorney, Tom White, told 6News. Two days after writing letters expressing their belief that Dr. Conley was unfit to treat patients, they were suspended by Dr. Azizkhan. Though the board unanimously voted to reinstate Dr. Miller at once, Azizkhan vetoed it. He threatened to report both suspensions to the state medical board, causing irreparable harm to Dr. Miller’s and Dr. Puccioni’s reputation. Both were forced to resign their privileges to practice medicine at Children’s Hospital, and to date, nearly 10 other physicians have resigned in protest. As far as is known, no action has been taken against Dr. Conley. He is still practicing at Children’s.
On December 11, 2018, the Nebraska Medical Association sent a letter to the board of Children’s Hospital expressing concerns about “patient care, safety and quality” and the loss of longtime physicians. (The letter can be read in its entirety here). No response has been given to date. The World-Herald reported, “Two other physicians have told The World-Herald that they were suspended by the hospital in the fall after speaking up about some of the same patient concerns outlined in the letter. They later resigned from Children’s but are still practicing in Omaha.”
In response to this lawsuit, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center released a statement the same Friday in support of Dr. Azizkhan and Dr. Conley, expressing confidence they would be found guiltless in the affair. The entirety of their statement can be read here.
A complaint about Conley was being investigated by Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, according to 6News. On January 9, 2019, the DHHS dismissed the complaint, stating it found no evidence of any regulatory violations at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
Dr. Azizkhan was named president and CEO of Children’s Hospital in Omaha effective October 19, 2015. Prior to that, he was president of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He is currently facing 551 lawsuits and counting over his previous employee, Dr. Atiq Durrani, who allegedly botched surgeries and performed unnecessary surgeries for profit. Dr. Durrani is facing federal criminal charges as well as civil lawsuits. One lawsuit against Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a botched spinal surgery has already settled for $2 million.
Live Well Nebraska noted of the surgeon accused of surgical malpractice by Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni, “Conley had trained in the Cincinnati area. Azizkhan had served as surgeon in chief and senior vice president of surgical services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center before coming to Omaha. Azizkhan also was vice chairman of the surgery department at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.”
Besides wrongful termination, Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni allege that Azizkhan engaged in a campaign to mislead and steal their patients. One mother who previously went to Dr. Puccioni for her son’s care at Children’s Hospital found herself rescheduled with Dr. Conley instead. Confused, she declined the appointment with an unknown physician.
Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni believe this scandal – from the cover-up of the child’s death to their wrongful termination – is all about the 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. Surgeons who by virtue of training, hard work, skill and compassion build a successful practice often have privileges at several institutions. Very successful surgeons, such as Plaintiffs in this suit, will attract patients who during their treatment collectively spend many millions of dollars a year for hospital services. As a result, 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." This is even true if the physician in question botches or performs unnecessary procedures.
Several parents recently interviewed by news sources have found Children’s behavior alarming and not forthcoming, at the very least.
We suspect many families are questioning the care they received at Children’s Hospital both now and in the past. In 2017, 138,500 patients were treated in the nonprofit’s 11 clinics, according to Children’s self-reported statistics.
Every hospital should be focused on making patients well - not making money for administrators. For more information on how to deal with suspected negligence at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, please call Bottlinger Law L.L.C. at (402) 505-8234 as soon as possible.
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