Cardiologist sues hospital, claims he was fired in retaliation


Interventional cardiologist Richard B. Zelman, MD, has filed a lawsuit against Cape Cod Hospital, Cape Cod Healthcare Inc., and its chief executive officer Michael K. Lauf, alleging that he was fired and maligned after raising concerns about poorly performed surgeries and poor ethical practices at the hospital.

Dr. Zelman, from Barnstable, Mass., has been affiliated with Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., for more than 30 years. He helped found the hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute and has served as its medical director since 2018.

In his lawsuit filed Dec. 6, Dr. Zelman alleges that the defendants, under Mr. Lauf’s leadership, “placed profit above all else, including by prioritizing revenue generation over patient safety and public health.”

Dr. Zelman says the defendants supported him “to the extent his actions were profitable.”

Yet, when he raised patient safety concerns that harmed that bottom line, Dr. Zelman says the defendants retaliated against him, including by threatening his career and reputation and unlawfully terminating his employment with the hospital.

The complaint notes Dr. Zelman is bringing this action “to recover damages for violations of the Massachusetts Healthcare Provider Whistleblower Statute ... as well as for breach of contract and common law claims.”

Dr. Zelman’s complaint alleges the defendants refused to adequately address the “dangerous care and violations of the professional standards of practice” that he reported, “resulting in harmful and tragic consequences.”

It also alleges Mr. Lauf restricted the use of a cerebral protection device used in patients undergoing transcatheter aortic-valve replacement (TAVR) deemed to be at high risk for periprocedural stroke to only those patients whose insurance reimbursed at higher rates.

Dr. Zelman says he objected to this prohibition “in accordance with his contractual and ethical obligations to ensure treatment of patients without regard to their ability to pay.”

Dr. Zelman’s lawsuit further alleges that Mr. Lauf launched a “trumped-up” and “baseless, biased, and retaliatory sham” investigation against him.

In a statement sent to the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Hospital denied Dr. Zelman’s claims that the cardiologist was retaliated against for raising patient safety issues, or that the hospital didn’t take action to improve cardiac care at the facility.

Voiced concerns

In a statement sent to this news organization, Dr. Zelman, now in private practice, said, “Over the past 25 years, I have been instrumental in bringing advanced cardiac care to Cape Cod. My commitment has always been to delivering the same quality outcomes and safety as the academic centers in Boston.

“Unfortunately, over the past 5 years, there has been inadequate oversight by the hospital administration and problems have occurred that in my opinion have led to serious patient consequences,” Dr. Zelman stated.

He said he has “voiced concerns over several years and they have been ignored.”

He added that Cape Cod Hospital offered him a million-dollar contract as long as he agreed to immediately issue a written statement endorsing the quality and safety of the cardiac surgical program that no longer exists.

“No amount of money was going to buy my silence,” Dr. Zelman told this news organization.

In his lawsuit, Dr. Zelman is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages, including back and front pay, lost benefits, physical and emotional distress, and attorneys’ fees.

This news organization reached out to Cape Cod Hospital for comment but has not yet received a response.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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