Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is a 65-year-old nonprofit hospital that entered into bankruptcy protection last summer as a result of numerous medical malpractice claims filed against it alleging medical negligence, battery, and fraud. The medical malpractice claims arose out of spinal procedures performed at the hospital by two physicians between 2006 and 2008 that were allegedly unsafe and ineffective.
The procedures involved injecting a Plexiglas-like bone cement into the disk spaces in the spines of patients that resulted in patients having severe pain and injuries that included some patients suffering partial paralysis and bladder and bowel dysfunction.
The cement was injected by the two physicians into patients’ spines and after hardening, the cement was intended to act as a cushion in the disk space that would relieve back pain. But the medical malpractice lawsuits alleged that the cement in some cases cracked into pieces after it hardened or seeped into unintended areas of the spine before it hardened, causing the harm. The cement had been approved for treating spinal fractures but was not approved for the procedures performed by the two physicians at the New Mexico hospital.
The qualifications and credentials of one of the physicians to perform the procedures, who is an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, have been called into question. The other physician, who is an orthopedic surgeon, settled medical malpractice claims against him earlier this year for a total of $11.5 million, which is part of the over $33 million to be paid to resolve medical malpractice claims by about 80 former patients. While the settlements will permit the hospital to emerge from bankruptcy protection, medical malpractice claims will continue against two insurance companies for the large national company that manages the hospital.
The questionable procedures came to light when a patient’s health insurance company brought to the hospital administration’s attention the circumstances involving one of its patients in which the patient suffered from loss of motor and sensory functions as well as immobility and incontinence following the cement procedure and the health insurance company questioned if the procedure was outside the scope of the physician’s authority and practice. The hospital responded by threatening the health insurance company with legal and regulatory action (the number of procedures performed by the two physicians at the hospital was so great that a second set of spine instruments had to be requested).
Four of the medical malpractice claimants have since died, allegedly due in part to complications from the cement used in their procedures.
This New Mexico medical malpractice matter brings to light the fact that many hospitals focus on and protect those areas of the hospital’s services that generate the largest amount of income for the hospitals. The fact that the New Mexico hospital threatened the health insurance company of one of its patients with legal and regulatory action when it questioned the spinal procedure shows that even nonprofit hospitals will react aggressively when a major source of their income is threatened, whether justified or not.
Both for-profit and nonprofit hospitals follow a business model that highly pays its top-performers in order for the hospitals to continue to enjoy the money that their activities provide the hospitals (one of the two physicians involved with the spinal cement procedures at the New Mexico hospital was one of its highest paid staff physicians, having earned more than $450,000 in 2007).
If you or a family member were injured as a result of a negligently performed procedure in a hospital or in another medical facility, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney to determine if you may have a legitimate medical malpractice claim.
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