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Baptist Health in an Arkansas State of Denial

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, October 7, 2010

It was a fateful meeting of the Baptist Health executive board in May 2003, when the panel adopted an "economic conflict of interest" policy.

At that time, the Baptist Health system, the largest in Arkansas, began a strange, winding journey to nowhere, when it decided that physicians couldn't be part of their establishment if they dared work at a competing hospital in the state.

With its decision, Baptist Health also targeted physicians' family members and relatives. If these relatives of the hospital physicians also worked at other hospitals, the Baptist physician would lose his job, a representative of the Arkansas Medical Society told me. Records filed before the Arkansas Supreme Court confirmed what he said.

The hospital threw down the gauntlet. A big mistake.

After six years of litigation and untold dollars spent on litigation, Baptist Health lost its legal gamble. Arkansas's highest court opinion ruled on September 30 that Baptist Health couldn't deny physicians' privileges if they are financially invested in a competitor.

The court acted on appeals from a lawsuit brought against Baptist Health by a group of 12 physicians, the American Medical Association as well as the Arkansas Medical Society. The decision upholds last year's lower court decision that found Baptist Health had acted improperly by inappropriately restricting hospital admitting privileges and interfering with the patient-physician relationship.

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