Two medical malpractice lawsuits against UPMC neurosurgeons that echoed parts of a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed against the Pittsburgh hospital system have been settled.
The cases were scheduled for trial this month in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Settlement terms were not disclosed.
The federal false claims lawsuit, unsealed in July, alleged that UPMC put profits before patients in part by awarding improper bonuses to neurosurgeons for the number of procedures performed and by promoting medically unnecessary procedures. UPMC has denied those claims and that lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District.
In the first medical malpractice case that was settled earlier this month, Somerset County residents Alice and Barry Ferguson sued neurosurgeon Adam Kanter over back operations performed on Mr. Ferguson in July and November 2010, according to court records. Among other claims, the Fergusons said the operation was not warranted by Mr. Ferguson’s medical history.
In the second lawsuit, Tioga County resident Gary Pettitt sued neurosurgeon Peter Gerszten over a December 2008 back operation. Citing the whistleblower lawsuit against UPMC and its claim of improper financial inducements for doctors, Mr. Pettitt petitioned the court for Dr. Gerszten’s employment contract in November, according to case records.
Ferguson family attorney Craig Frischman was unavailable. UPMC counsel David Johnson said the settlement terms were confidential.
Cliff Rieders, who represented Mr. Pettitt, said the settlement was a “fair and just result for everybody under all the circumstances.” UPMC lawyer John Conti declined to comment.
The two doctors were among 13 UPMC neurosurgeons listed in the federal whistleblower lawsuit, which claims the doctors received improper bonus payments to increase the complexity and number of medical procedures performed.
UPMC has asked the court to dismiss the claim, saying the network’s “effort-based incentive compensation system” is used throughout the hospital industry.
In a deposition given in 2015 in a separate medical malpractice claim, Dr. Gerszten rejected the idea that money influenced medical decisions. The case involved a 2014 operation on the spine, called kyphoplasty, that left retired executive secretary Mary Margaret Rhodes severely disabled.
“The thought is abominable to me that you would insinuate that I am doing a procedure on a woman, as a surgeon sitting here today, dedicating my life to what I do as the best kyphoplastic technician in the world,” he told lawyer Todd Bowlus during a deposition Aug. 27, 2015, according to court records.
“There is no one in the world who can do this technique better than I can, and you are insinuating, you have the gall to insinuate to me, that I am doing a procedure on a human being at the incorrect level, at an unnecessary level, to get a few more Relative Value Units, hundreds of dollars; I have to just admit, I’m sorry, but that’s just appalling to me to insinuate that.”
Kris B. Mamula:firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1699
Correction, posted Jan. 17, 2017: The names of Todd Bowlus and Peter Gerszten were spelled incorrectly in an earlier version.