More legal troubles hit Tenet Healthcare Corp. as the company disclosed that HHS' inspector general's office subpoenaed two physicians who have financial arrangements with three Tenet hospitals in El Paso, Texas. Meanwhile, a judge in Philadelphia County's Common Pleas Court ruled that Tenet officials improperly diverted ambulances from 369-bed Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia.
In the El Paso case, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet said it also expects to be asked for documents by the inspector general's office. The physicians' subpoenas seek documents regarding financial arrangements between the physicians and the hospitals, Tenet said. In April 2003, the inspector general's office issued a civil subpoena to Tenet regarding agreements between five Tenet hospitals in California and Nevada and a physician group. Several Tenet hospitals also face probes related to physician agreements by the U.S. attorneys in Los Angeles and San Diego. Last year, a federal grand jury in San Diego indicted Tenet, its Alvarado Hospital Medical Center and two Alvarado executives, alleging $10 million in illegal payments for physician relocation.
In the lawsuit over Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital, a community group won a round in its effort to block Tenet from closing the hospital March 31. Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew Carrafiello ruled that hospital officials didn't follow their own policies and procedures regarding ambulance diversions, said Gerard Schrom, a lawyer representing a coalition to save the hospital. The coalition contends Tenet violated Carrafiello's earlier order that no actions be taken to close the hospital while the lawsuit is pending, Schrom said. The coalition is seeking $1 million per day in damages, he said.
Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for Tenet's Philadelphia hospitals, said the diversions were mostly a result of the loss of 95 nurses who have resigned recently. With inadequate staffing, hospital officials had no choice but to divert patients, he said. Jubelirer also said Tenet believes its hospital officials correctly interpreted the policies.
More evidence in the case will be submitted this week, and a ruling is expected soon after, Schrom said. Carrafiello has scheduled a Feb. 19 hearing on the coalition's motion for a preliminary injunction barring closure of the hospital. Tenet owns and operates 100 hospitals.