Six Little Rock, Ark., doctors will be allowed to keep seeing patients and referring them to Baptist Hospital for another month, even though they sued the hospital Wednesday.
During a meeting of opposing attorneys with Pulaski County Circuit Judge Collins Kilgore on Thursday, Harold Simpson, the lead attorney for Baptist, agreed to extend temporary clinical privileges to the six cardiologists.
The physicians had filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the hospital from stripping their privileges, and that was a likely influence on the hospital to agree to the extension, according to Royce Griffin, a Little Rock attorney representing the doctors.
"The judge had had the case about 24 hours," Griffin says. "It was not his desire that the status quo be disturbed. The parties agreed that they would grant a reprieve for up to 30 days until the judge can review the materials in the case."
The privileges of Bruce Murphy, M.D., and Scott Beau, M.D., were set to expire Thursday afternoon. They were initially not allowed to renew them because they and the four other doctors have 14.5% ownership in a competing medical institution, the 84-bed, 7-year-old Arkansas Heart Hospital, one of 13 heart hospitals owned and managed by Medcath of Charlotte, N.C. Murphy holds another 3.5 percent share on his own of the specialty hospital. Medcath holds the remaining 71% interest.
The six physicians filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging Baptist's rules, but Judge James Moody ruled Tuesday that it was not a matter of federal law. In response Wednesday, the doctors lodged their complaint in state court. Simpson said he would file a brief outlining Baptist's position next week.
The doctors will have clinical privileges at the hospital for 30 days or until Kilgore rules on the case, whichever comes first.
Griffin says "the real victims are the patients" who have been seeing these doctors for as many as 15 years at Baptist.
Those patients had been able to see one of the six cardiologists under Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance when they had privileges at Baptist, but Blue Cross has not allowed Arkansas Heart Hospital doctors into its network.
Another recent decision by Moody may change that, however. On Feb. 12, Moody lifted an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals injunction and allowed the state's so-called "any-willing-provider" law to take effect. That law says insurance companies must accept claims from any healthcare provider who meets their standards of service.
But Simpson says the "any-willing-provider" law doesn't apply to Baptist as it would to insurance companies. And besides, he said, the doctors are not "willing" to adhere to Baptist's rules preventing them from holding ownership interests in a competing institution.
Simpson said he also argued that the doctors could not claim they were being injured financially because Murphy, for instance, received about $200,000 in annual dividends from his share of Arkansas Heart Hospital.
Joseph Conn contributed to this story.