Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


March 4, 2014

Hundreds file suit against KDMC, Paulus

CATLETTSBURG — Hundreds of former patients of King’s Daughters Medical Center on Tuesday filed malpractice lawsuits against the hospital, a recently retired heart surgeon who practiced there and other parties.

The two civil complaints, filed in Boyd Circuit Court, list more than 500 plaintiffs, living and deceased, all alleging they suffered as the result of undergoing “medically unnecessary and harmful cardiac procedures.”

Named as defendants were Ashland Hospital Corp., KDMC’s parent company; Kentucky Heart Institute Inc.; Richard E. Paulus M.D. PSC, a professional services corporation; Paulus individually; and Cumberland Cardiology PSC, the name assumed by the Kentucky Heart Institute in 2008.

Both suits were filed by attorneys Hans Poppe of Louisville and William H. Wilhoit of Grayson. Both are identical, save for the names of the plaintiffs.

The suits charge the defendants with negligence and gross negligence; lack of informed consent; negligent representation; fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligent hiring, credentialing supervision and privileging; unjust enrichment; civil conspiracy; violation of the Consumer Protection Act; and battery. They seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, court costs and attorney fees, a jury trial and damages for emotional distress and loss of earning power.

The complaints stem from the alleged “pattern and practice” of the defendants of performing, allowing to perform and billing for unnecessary cardiac procedures, including PCTA (percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty) with stenting, coronary artery bypass grafts and pacemaker and defibrilator implantation.

The plaintiffs allege the defendants “routinely misrepresented patients” cardiac conditions in order to justify the performance of procedures on the patients’ hearts,” and that overstating of the extent of the plaintiffs’ conditions allowed the defendants “to bill insurance companies, federal and state governments and the patients themselves for hundreds of unnecessary procedures.”

The allegations are similar to those contained in a civil suit filed in September against Paulus and KDMC by an Ohio man and his wife, and in several other complaints filed recently against the defendants by individual plaintiffs. But the suits filed on Tuesday are the first instances of mass groups of former patients coming forward with claims of undergoing unnecessary procedures.

As a result of the defendants’ conduct, the suits allege the plaintiffs have all suffered harm that includes “unneccessary, painful and dangerous cardiac procedure, serious, painful and permanent injuries to mind and body and great physical and mental pain and suffering.”

The complaints also allege that KDMC has largely refused to comply with the plaintiffs’ requests to turn over their medical records and cardiac films and that the “vast majority” of the plaintiffs had not received complete copies of their records and films.

The suit also makes reference to the fact that KDMC has been under investigation for more than two years by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged overstenting.

KDMC has been among the nation’s leaders in stent procedures. Bloomberg.com recently reported that Ashland ranked fourth out of 1,768 U.S. regions in the number of stent-related procedures per 1,000 Medicare enrollees in 2010, according to an analysis by researchers affiliated with Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. KDMC is Ashland’s only cardiac-stenting facility.

KDMC is one of a number of hospitals that have been investigated by the DOJ over interventional cardiac procedures. According to Bloomberg, at least 11 hospitals have settled federal allegations that they billed public health programs for needless stents and related misdeeds. Federal investigations continue in five states.

KDMC spokesman Tom Dearing said the lawsuits came as no surprise.

"We've been expecting the civil suits to be filed this week. These lawsuits are being generated by Louisville-based and Texas-based law firms that persistently solicited our cardiac patients through multiple channels. For over a year, we’ve cooperated in good faith, providing hundreds of records as requested,” Dearing said in an statement emailed to the media.

 "The lawsuits do not provide a lot of information, so there's nothing to which we can specifically respond. However we do know some of the complaints relate to care as far back as 1995. As a hospital, we handle medical malpractice cases as needed and will process these claims using normal, established procedures. Unfortunately, this is an enormous burden on our local judicial system and ultimately diverts resources away from our community.

 "King’s Daughters intends to defend the care provided by our cardiac program, of which we are very proud, and which has been recognized for its patient care and quality outcomes.”

Paulus’ Washington D.C.-based attorney, Robert Bennett, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on the suits, but said last year his client would “vigorously contest” any and all allegations against him.

Bennett was President Bill Clinton’s personal attorney in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit and also counts two former U.S. defense secretaries among his former clients.

Paulus retired in August after 21 years of practicing at KDMC. He said at the time that his retirement “was the confluence of a lot of events,” and that he wanted to spend more time doing charitable work and with his family.

KDMC’s Heart & Vascular Center bears Paulus’ name — the Richard E. Paulus M.D. Pavilion.

Both suits have been assigned to Judge C. David Hagerman.

Claims made in civil lawsuits state only one side of an issue. Under the law, the defendants have 20 days from the date they are served to file responses.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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Dirt flies as a wall comes down from the old Catlettsburg National Bank Building on Monday. MARK MAYNARD / The Independent

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