Heart patients accuse Excela of conspiracy
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Lawyers for more than 100 former heart patients at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital argued in court on Monday that a final report that found two of its surgeons might have performed unnecessary operations was a case of retribution against the doctors.
Attorneys Victor Pribanic and Rudolph Massa told Westmoreland County Judge Anthony Marsili that information being withheld by the hospital could prove that officials were aware of problems with stent procedures dating back to 2007, four years before the hospital disclosed those issues to its patients and the public.
Patients are suing for negligence and contend there was a corporate conspiracy.
“It's a question of what the hospital knew and when they knew it,” Massa said.
Excela lawyer David Johnson disputed the allegation and said the hospital acted on information it had at the time.
“Those claims aren't supported by any evidence on record. The real story is completely at odds with that scenario,” Johnson said.
About 115 former patients have sued the hospital and physicians Ehab Morcos and George Bou Samra, claiming they performed unnecessary stent procedures in 2009 and 2010. Stents are tiny mesh tubes placed into an artery to help improve blood flow.
The patients' lawyers asked Marsili to force the hospital to turn over details of three private investigations, the first of which was commissioned in 2007.
The first investigation was in response to claims raised by a competing group of Latrobe cardiologists, who contended other Excela-affiliated doctors were performing too many stent operations.
That report cleared the Greensburg hospital of wrongdoing, Pribanic said.
A second investigation, commissioned a year later, found potential problems with procedures done by Morcos and Bou Samra, according to Pribanic.
Lawyers for the patients contend it was then that the hospital attempted to hire the doctors to get a piece of their lucrative stent practice.
The third investigation, which ultimately led to the hospital's public disclosure and notification to patients in March 2011, was completed when the two doctors refused to go to work directly for the hospital, Pribanic said.
The doctors, while affiliated with the hospital, worked under the umbrella of Westmoreland County Cardiology.
“The third time it was to get rid of Bou Samra and Morcos because they weren't playing ball with the hospital,” Pribanic said.
Marsili ruled that the patients' lawyers will have access to the hospital's reports, but ordered that names and other information that identifies patients be redacted or removed from the records provided to the attorneys.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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