Former AUMC Doctor Sues for Violation of Due Process Rights, Hospital Bylaws and Defamation

Screenshot from complaint document.

Augusta University Medical Center (AUMC) and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Philip Coule were named as defendants in a violation of due process rights, hospital bylaws and defamation lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Georgia on June 17.

The lawsuit alleges that AUMC and Dr. Coule violated AUMC medical staff bylaws and due process rights of Dr. Linda Street.

According to the complaint filed with the federal district court, the defendants also intentionally committed defamation and inflicted emotional distress of Dr. Street.

Dr. Street is a licensed and board-certified Obstetrician Gynecologist with a specialization in Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) who was hired by AUMC in August 2016.

On May 1, 2019, Dr. Street tendered her 60-day notice of resignation, with her last day of employment to be June 30, 2019. 

A little over a week prior to Dr. Streets last day of employment, Dr. Lawrence Devoe, the interim MFM section chief, announced that doctors in MFM would no longer provide phone call coverage or physical call presence during night and weekend shifts at AUMC. Physical and on the phone coverage for these shifts was to be provided by general obstetrician faculty.

Nonetheless, according to the filed complaint, Dr. Street intended to remain available for coverage to the obstetrician faculty through the end of her employment.

With her supervisor on personal leave, Dr. Street was scheduled to provide coverage for MFM from June 21-23, 2019. However, on June 19, 2019, Dr. Street notified her supervisor that she unexpectedly had to leave town because her mother was having surgery. 

Dr. Street’s supervisor, administrative assistant and Dr. Coule were all kept abreast of the situation, according to the complaint.

The complaint further states that Dr. Street made appropriate arrangements for coverage by AUMC’s own standards, policies and bylaws and even answered multiple calls from the hospital on the weekend she was initially scheduled to cover.

The following week, just five days before Dr. Street’s last day of employment at AUMC, Dr. Street received a letter from Dr. Coule informing her that, “Information has recently come to our attention to cause concern for the safety of our patients under your care. As such, your privileges to practice medicine and surgery in Obstetrics and Gynecology (sic) is hereby suspended and access to AU Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Georgia, AU Medical Associates and its affiliated practice sites is hereby revoked.”

According to the complaint, Dr. Street’s suspension and revocation of privileges came after another doctor alleged that Dr. Street left town while on a weekend call at AUMC without making arrangements for coverage.

The AUMC medical staff bylaws state: “Within 72 hours of rendering a Summary Suspension the Chief Medical Officer, and Service Chair must determine if a Corrective Action should be initiated …”

The complaint stated that at no time within the 72-hour window was any determination of corrective action made and failure to do so automatically reinstated Dr. Street’s medical staff privileges under the bylaws.

In the weeks following Dr. Streets last day of employment an ad hoc investigation committee was created to review her suspension and revocation of privileges.

The committee interviewed her in July 2019 and issued a preliminary report, which Dr. Street did not receive until August. Within 15 days of receiving the report, Dr. Street sent a response letter that included an affidavit from her former supervisor, attesting that she made the appropriate efforts to arrange shift coverage while she was on personal leave. 

According to the complaint, Dr. Street still has not received anything regarding the final outcome of the investigation after almost a year.

Dr. Street did receive notification of a report of action from the National Practitioners’ Data Bank (NPDB). NPBD is a database operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that contains adverse action reports on health care professionals.

In a letter from AUMC’s general counsel, E.L. Clark Speese, AUMC reported Dr. Street to the NPDB alleging that she resigned her employment and privileges effective June 30, 2019, while under investigation and suspension. 

Although, when Dr. Street submitted her notice of resignation on May 1, 2019, she was not under any sort of investigation or suspension.

The complaint alleged that the NPDB report was known by the defendants to be false but submitted it anyways. 

Additionally, Dr. Street’s summary suspension only lasted five days, which is 25 days less than the amount needed for filing a NPDB report.

According to the complaint the defendants singled out and retaliated against Dr. Street for resigning from her employment at AUMC in May to pursue her medical career with another medical facility. 

The complaint also stated that the presence of an NPDB report has caused and will continue to cause Dr. Street to suffer loss of professional standing and significant loss of earnings.

Dr. Street and her lawyer, Franklin D. Beahm, asked for the NPDB report to be removed from AUMC’s records as well as compensation for lost income, past and future, and attorney fees.

Dr. Street and her lawyer have also demanded a jury trial which has not yet taken place. AUMC has not yet responded to the complaint and has 30 days to do so.

Dr. Street said that she had no further information to give other than what is contained in the complaint. 

Associate Vice President of Communications Christen Engel said Augusta University does not comment on pending litigation.

This story originally appeared in The BellRinger:

Published by Emily G. Garcia

Enterprise Reporter at The Red & Black

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