A former Kaiser Permanente anesthesiologist has filed a $9 million lawsuit against the health organization, claiming he was fired after he repeatedly complained that cost-cutting measures were jeopardizing the safety of patients in the Portland area.
Among those measures was an August 2014 mandate from higher-ups that anesthesiologists reduce the amount of knock-out or anti-anxiety meds they give surgery patients so the patients would wake up sooner and be discharged as soon as possible, according to a lawsuit filed by Dr. Erik Franck last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Franck was particularly disturbed that upper management told Kaiser anesthesiologists to address patients' suffering by warning them ahead of time that they were going to be in pain after surgery, the suit states.
Kaiser, the suit claims, spared no mercy for kids who underwent surgery, either.
"As a result of these policies, Dr. Franck became increasingly concerned that his pediatric patients were having their IVs pulled too soon after arrival in the recovery room while they were still crying with pain," the suit states.
In response to last week's lawsuit filed by Franck, a Kaiser spokesman offered the following statement:
"Kaiser Permanente is nationally recognized for meeting the highest standards for quality in surgical care. We are consistent in our approach to lawsuits filed by former employees. We prefer to respond through the appropriate legal process, rather than litigate in the media. The claim is meritless and we are confident the facts will readily reflect that."
Franck's lawsuit is at least the third of its kind filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court since 2014 by doctors who argue the organization's interests in minimizing costs is putting patients at risk.
In April 2014, oncologist Jennifer Lycette filed a $7 million lawsuit claiming she was forced to quit after she made a series of complaints, including that Kaiser's oncologists were ordered to rush patients through bone-marrow biopsies, meaning there might not be enough time for their pain medications to fully kick in.
In August 2014, sleep-clinic doctor Radhika Breaden filed a $9 million suitclaiming she was forced to quit after she complained about cost-cutting measures forcing sleep-deprived patients to drive long distances to access a Kaiser sleep laboratory.
Both Lycette's and Breaden's lawsuits are still pending.
Franck's lawsuit states that he's been an anesthesiologist for 19 years. Now 55, he started working for Kaiser in June 2013 -- administering anesthesia to patients in Portland area clinics, including at Kaiser facilities in North Portland, Beaverton and Clackamas.
He worked for the health-care organization about two years before management didn't renew his contract in August 2015.
The suit states that Franck raised concerns when he saw them. Among the allegations:
- A new policy required staff to get surgery patients to the operating rooms by 7:30 a.m. -- even if staff needed more time to prep patients, the suit states. Occasionally, Franck didn't meet the deadline because he was was attending "to a patient's medical needs or a patient's desire for more information prior to surgery," the suit states.
- "During an anesthesia department meeting, Clayton Horan, M.D., Chief of Anesthesia, emphasized the importance of meeting the 7:30 a.m. deadline by advising the anesthesia doctors ... to 'take the patient in with their street clothes on if you have to," states the lawsuit.
- In late 2013 and early 2014, Franck told Kaiser management he was concerned about patient safety after he was assigned to supervise the care of four patients at the same time, according to the suit. Franck, a father of two school-aged boys, told management "I would not want my child to have surgery under that anesthesia model."
- In May 2014, the director of obstetrics anesthesia for Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center sent out an email stating that "Anesthesiologists are asked not to go into operating rooms during [cesarean sections] unless absolutely necessary," the suit states. But Franck responded that "it isn't safe to discourage anesthesiologists from going into their operating rooms. We supervised CRNA's (certified registered nurse anesthetist) and should feel free to go in as we feel need."
Franck's lawsuit says that he had a stellar track record.
"Dr. Franck's work was routinely praised by his superiors, co-workers and patients. He had no adverse outcomes," states the suit. "His first year review was exemplary. He never received discipline."
But the suit does claim that in his second year on the job, he was retaliated against because he repeatedly voiced his concerns. In September 2014, he was told that there had been some complaints by co-workers about him and that he should complete a four-session Kaiser communication course, which he did, according to the suit.
Seven months later, he was told his contract wouldn't be renewed when it expired, the suit states.
Portland attorney Judy Snyder, who is representing Franck, said her client now works for Portland area dentists, administering anesthesia for mostly children.
"He's taken a hit financially," Snyder said.