By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun
8:14 PM EST, February 29, 2012
Dr. Mark Midei's lawyers on Wednesday cast the embattled cardiologist as a scapegoat used to mask deeper turmoil at St. Joseph Medical Center as they asked a judge to let a defamation lawsuit Midei filed against the hospital go to trial.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey Norman made no decision. Norman held the hearing in response to a plea from St. Joseph and its corporate parent to throw out Midei's case rather than carry it to the jury trial Midei's lawyer Stephen L. Snyder is requesting.
St. Joseph's lawyers argue the suit is invalid because Midei signed a release absolving hospital officials from responsibility when he resigned from his post in November 2009.
A trial could reveal details of the upheaval at the Towson hospital that has been brewing since St. Joseph agreed to pay $22 million to settle with the federal government in November 2010 after an investigation, Snyder argued. Among his assertions was the possibility that the settlement had no connection to accusations that Midei implanted in patients hundreds of unnecessary medical devices known as cardiac stents.
The lawsuit is Midei's main recourse against a scandal that has cost him his seven-figure salary, Maryland medical license and reputation. His troubles began in 2009, when St. Joseph warned 600 patients that their stent surgeries might have been unnecessary. More than 200 have since filed lawsuits against the cardiologist. He has said the ordeal left him unable to find work, nearly suicidal and in treatment for substance abuse for a time.
Snyder repeatedly called St. Joseph's push to block the lawsuit part of an effort to "engineer a process" in which Midei is publicly perceived as the source of the hospital's financial and image problems. Midei was placed on leave in May 2009 as accusations of unnecessary surgeries surfaced. He was formally suspended that July.
"When they sent him home, everyone thought, 'This federal investigation has to be about Dr. Midei,'" Snyder said in court.
He said he has evidence showing that may not be true and asked for the chance to make his case through subpoenas and other fact-finding in a trial.
St. Joseph and its parent, Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, are depending on the November 2009 release as they seek to have the suit dismissed. The contract shields the hospital from responsibility for any consequences of Midei's activities there. But Snyder claimed that Midei was duped into signing it, not expecting that the hospital would soon after send the letters of warning to patients.
Those letters, Snyder argued, sparked Midei's downfall. The ensuing publicity has made it impossible for Midei to get a new job, he said. Midei is seeking $60 million for each of the four counts in the suit.
Norman did not give a timeline for his decision on the case's future. After the hearing, Snyder said he expected it to be a quick process because Norman was well-versed in the background of the case. William Blakely, a lawyer with Washington firm Polsinelli Shughart, representing St. Joseph and Catholic Health, declined to comment.
In a separate court case, Midei is seeking reinstatement of his medical license.
Meanwhile, Catholic Health is exploring a sale of St. Joseph, which has seen declines in revenue, patient admissions and staff. The hospital put out a call in October for a "strategic partnership" and is considering offers from three suitors, St. Agnes Hospital, LifeBridge Health and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The reach of the scandal over stents also has expanded. At least three other cardiologists who formerly worked alongside Midei at MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates are facing lawsuits filed in recent months alleging unnecessary stent surgeries.
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