Sanger Clinic, Charlotte, N.C., has filed a defamation lawsuit against four-hospital Presbyterian Healthcare, also in Charlotte, claiming that a series of Presbyterian ads misled the public about the clinic's on-call cardiology coverage at a competing hospital. The lawsuit, filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, seeks an injunction barring Presbyterian from claiming it's the only area hospital with a board-certified cardiologist in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The clinic also is seeking actual damages in excess of $10,000, punitive damages and a series of public retractions. Stephen Wagner, the clinic's chief executive officer, said Sanger established an official policy in December prohibiting physicians from leaving Carolinas Medical Center when they are on call. Wagner said Presbyterian began running newspaper, radio and television ads last fall to exploit the clinic's lack of a formal policy. At the time, physicians sometimes left the hospital briefly to eat or visit their homes if they lived nearby, he said.
Jim Tobalski, a senior vice president at Presbyterian, part of Novant Health, Winston-Salem, N.C., said Presbyterian agreed to stop running the ads after verifying that Carolinas and the clinic had made changes. After the agreement, a final ad appeared in the April 4 Charlotte Observer. Tobalski said the ad was inadvertently purchased by the system's ad agency, but Presbyterian was willing to buy another ad to correct the mistake. "They preferred to file a lawsuit," Tobalski said. Presbyterian will respond to the suit, but Tobalski said he could not say specifically what the system's next step would be. -- by Vince Galloro