The procedures, which consist of making a slit in the neck to insert a breathing tube into the windpipe, caused fatal complications in both patients, according to the complaint, filed July 25 in Cook County Circuit Court.
“You're never going to see a more flagrant violation of the Hippocratic oath than in this case,” said Joseph Curcio, of Chicago personal-injury firm Curcio Law Offices, who filed the suit. “This is just appalling.”
The allegations are similar to those contained in an FBI affidavit that was used to obtain search warrants earlier this year in connection with an investigation of the hospital's practices. On April 16, federal agents arrested Sacred Heart's owner, Edward Novak; the chief financial officer, Roy Payawal; and four other doctors. They are free on bond.
In the affidavit, Mr. Novak is accused of urging hospital staff to “stretch” the length of stay for tracheotomy patients to maximize reimbursements. The hospital could rake in $160,000 from Medicare if a tracheotomy patient stayed 27 days, the federal complaint says.
Ms. Robinson, who died Jan. 5, was treated by Dr. Venkata Buddharaju, who is identified in the FBI affidavit only as Physician D, Mr. Curcio said.
Physician D, a pulmonologist, sedated patients so that they would not be able to breath on their own, the affidavit says. Patients would then be administered tracheotomies, the affidavit says.
Dr. Buddharaju is not named as a defendant in the civil suit and has not been arrested in connection with the investigation. His attorney, Thomas Breen of Chicago, said he had not seen the civil suit and declined to comment.
Mr. Curcio said it has not yet been determined who oversaw the treatment of Mr. Bruce, who died April 23, 2012.
The civil complaint also names as defendants Messrs. Novak and Payawal and the four physicians who were arrested with them, even though they are not alleged to have treated Ms. Robinson or Mr. Bruce.
The hospital closed on July 1 and has filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors.