JOSHUA TREE — A physician and director of Hi-Desert Memorial Health Care District filed suit against the hospital district this month, alleging his fellow doctors and Chief Executive Officer Lionel Chadwick retaliated against him for complaining about poor care.
Dr. Dennis Wilcox of Pioneertown, who was appointed to the district’s Board of Directors in 2008, filed his complaint March 8 in Riverside court.
He alleges the hospital, its doctors and its leaders violated his civil rights and retaliated against him when he expressed concerns that the care at the Hi-Desert Medical Center was “substandard,” and that certain providers “acted contrary to the best interest of the patients there.”
The health care district’s attorney issued a statement denying the allegations.
“The Medical Center believes Dr. Wilcox’s lawsuit is both procedurally and substantively meritless,” the statement reads.
Named in the suit are the district, Hi-Desert Medical Center, the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee, Chadwick and 10 doctors.
Wilcox and his attorneys are demanding a jury trial.
They allege that after Wilcox entered into agreements to provide medical services in the health care district in May 2007, he “became aware of serious medical care and treatment deficiencies at the hospital and became pro-active in addressing these.”
Wilcox provides several examples of experiences he alleges are representative of common practices at HDMC.
The most serious describes a 76-year-old woman whose colon was punctured during a routine colonoscopy. According to Wilcox, instead of admitting her to the hospital, the staff gastroenterologist sent her home. She developed an infection that eventually killed her.
He details several more cases of infections, ruptured appendixes, kidney stones, heart problems and cancers that he says were misdiagnosed or inappropriately treated, but were not up for discussion when he brought up his concerns.
The doctor claims he found that patients are endangered when they must wait for treatment at Hi-Desert Medical Center because many of its specialists don’t live nearby and “it is inconvenient for them to drive to Hi-Desert and attend patients who may or may not be able to pay them.”
He alleges the hospital staff “delay critical treatment to the patients to accommodate the practitioner’s own medical schedule.”
Wilcox claims the situation is so common the hospital staff has a name for it — the “Hi-Desert Delay.”
Wilcox maintains that he was continually “cut off and intimidated” from communicating with Medical Executive Committee members or staff administrators.
His suit alleges that the district and medical committee reported him to the California Medical Board “with the intention to seek a revocation of Wilcox’s medical license.”
He contends the doctors contacted his patients and tried to steer them to other providers, boycotted his practice and made false and defamatory statements against him.
In addition, the complaint states Wilcox was subject to “unreasonable restrictions” that kept him from performing some procedures. His emergency room surgical coverage schedule was cut, which also contributed to his financial hardship.
Wilcox’s attorney, David M. Korrey, said the restrictions on his client’s practice so curtailed his earning capacity that his employment at HDMC effectively has ended.
“It wiped him out,” the attorney said in a telephone interview.
Korrey also declared that although the California Medical Board exonerated Wilcox and he could have applied to other hospitals to augment his income, these other hospitals would not have welcomed his application after they learned another facility had restricted his privileges.
District officials acknowledged this week they have been served with the summons and complaint.
The health care district’s attorney, Carlo Coppo of DiCaro, Coppo and Popke, provided a statement on behalf of the district,
“The Medical Center believes Dr. Wilcox’s lawsuit is both procedurally and substantively meritless,” the attorneys wrote.
They said the matter has been referred to outside counsel, “who will vigorously defend this matter in court.”
The statement goes on, It would be inappropriate to comment on personnel and/or medical staff matters, due to issues of confidentiality and privilege. Because of the pending lawsuit, the Medical Center will not ‘litigate in the press’ and will make no further comment on this matter.
“The Medical Center will pursue its legitimate and forceful defenses to this meritless litigation and fully expects to prevail before a judge or jury.”
Wilcox’s attorney anticipates a trial in two to three years, when his client would hope to recover wages lost due to the restrictions, and clear his professional status.
However, he noted that should Wilcox have his practice privileges restored in the meantime, it would reduce his claim for lost wages “considerably.”