Healthcare Business News

Baylor Regional declines Baldrige award over malpractice suits

By Rachel Landen
Posted: February 24, 2014 - 6:45 pm ET

Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano in Texas has turned down the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the wake of several medical malpractice lawsuits alleging that a former Baylor neurosurgeon operated while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. This is the first time an organization has ever declined a Baldrige Award.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology notified Baylor Plano last fall that it would receive the Baldrige Award during an April 2014 ceremony. But Friday, Baylor Plano released a statement saying that “while it is extremely proud of this honor, the hospital's leadership is making the difficult decision at this time to withdraw from the process.” Baylor Plano is part of Baylor Scott & White Health.

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“Right now, Baylor Plano is working to address allegations being made against it by plaintiffs' attorneys in lawsuits and in the media,” hospital officials said in a written statement issued Friday. “So at this time, out of respect for the Baldrige Award and to not give any misleading allegations an elevated public platform, Baylor Plano is announcing this decision.”

Rulon Stacey, chair of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and president and CEO of Fairview Health Services, could not be reached for comment.

Baylor's decision to turn down the award comes just a little more than a week after Mary Efurd, a former patient, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and its health system, alleging that she was injured during a 2012 surgery at Baylor Plano performed by Dr. Christopher Duntsch. According to the suit, during Efurd's treatment, “concerns were raised by the operating room team that Duntsch seemed to be 'distracted' and disoriented.' ” The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, says the surgeon's condition may have been due to his being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The suit said that during his affiliation with Baylor Plano, Duntsch used and abused alcohol, and illicit and prescription drugs. It claimed Baylor Plano did not test Duntsch for drugs or heed warnings it received about his conduct.

Concerns about Duntsch have led to allegations repeated in other similar suits against the surgeon involving patients who allegedly were injured or who died under his care during a nine-month period that began in July 2011. According to the suits, one of Duntsch's operations resulted in the patient being rendered a quadriplegic. Less than a month later, another of his surgical patients died from massive blood loss.

In March 2012, Baylor Plano asked for Duntsch's resignation. Last December, the Texas Medical Board revoked his medical license, citing six cases in which he allegedly violated standards of care.

Gail Porter, director of public affairs for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which administers the Baldrige Award program, said the Baldrige program staff were not aware of the specific allegations in the lawsuits at the time they recognized Baylor Plano with the award.

Baylor Plano was one of three organizations named a recipient of the 2013 Baldrige Award, which recognizes organizations for innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. Sutter Davis (Calif.) Hospital also won in the healthcare category.

Following Baylor Plano's decision declining the award, the Baldrige Excellence Program posted a statement on its site encouraging the hospital to reapply for the award in the future.

Experts say that problems with individual physicians often are challenging for hospitals but that they must address them effectively to protect patient safety and quality of care.

“The vast majority of caregivers want to do the right thing, but the longstanding incentives and pressures to 'look the other way' are powerful,” Dr. David Mayer, vice president of quality and safety for MedStar Health, wrote in a recent blog. “To achieve a true safety culture, leaders need to be held accountable to removing these barriers and celebrating caregivers who raise their hand when safety concerns arise.”

Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden

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