Lawsuit Highlights Legal Issues Tied to Firing Residents

Julie McCoy, October 8, 2009

In light of a $24 million lawsuit filed by a doctor against Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore claiming that he was unlawfully fired earlier this year, how can hospitals prepare for legal troubles?

Oscar Serrano, MD, a former surgical resident, says he was fired because he refused to lie on the ACGME Resident Survey, according to the Associated Press.

Serrano's lawsuit states the firing was unlawful because there's not enough evidence of poor performance as his evaluations only showed high marks, according to the Maryland Daily Record.

Unfortunately, lawsuits are unavoidable in graduate medical education (GME).

"Whether or not a person sues is outside of your control, but you can manage how you're going to deal with the lawsuit, take preventative measures, and anticipate certain problems," says Franklin Medio, GME consultant and former designated institutional official.

The best way to prepare for lawsuits is to ensure your policies, procedures, and documentation are in order. Competency-based evaluations and feedback are a key component to noticing red flags in resident performance. Evaluations should include objective and narrative components and should be viewed by relevant faculty.

"There should be documentation that the person had performance problems [and] they were counseled about those problems," Medio explains, adding that due process policies should be reviewed by hospital legal departments.

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