Metro Detroit cardiologists Mahir Elder and Amir Kaki have won a $10.6 million arbitration judgment against for-profit Detroit Medical Center based on their contention the six-hospital health system improperly terminated their employment and medical staff privileges in October 2018.
Elder and Kaki had internally reported numerous instances of poor quality care and management interference at DMC, some of which Crain's reported going back to 2014.
When firing Elder and Kaki and forcing out Heart Hospital President Dr. Ted Schreiber, DMC said Kaki and Elder were fired for unspecified "code of conduct" violations discovered after an internal investigation.
"The arbitrator found the extensive investigation never occurred and DMC's comments at the time (about Kaki and Elder's behavior) were false," said Deborah Gordon, an attorney with Deborah Gordon Law in Bloomfield Hills representing Kaki and Elder.
"At the moment the DMC is trying to force us to file the award under seal instead of on the federal court docket," Gordon said. "There was a wealth of evidence finding that my clients were retaliated against for engaging in protected activity, such as making complaints about safety and quality."
In a statement, DMC said it will seek to vacate the arbitrator's decision in federal court.
"On behalf of our dedicated employees and medical staff, we stand behind the decision of our governing board to not renew the expired medical staff membership and clinical privileges of Drs. Kaki and Elder for another two-year term (their privileges expired in April 2019)," DMC said in an email to Crain's.
"Medical staff membership is a privilege — not a right — and the DMC will continue to prioritize patient safety and the well-being of its staff when making these decisions, particularly when confronted with very serious physician behavioral concerns."
The arbitrator's decision also reinstates Kaki's and Elder's medical staff privileges at DMC, starting Feb. 1, for a period of one year "equivalent to the same privileges they enjoyed prior to the retaliation," according to arbitrator Mary Beth Kelly in her decision.
Responding to DMC's statement, Gordon said it is difficult to overturn an arbitration decision. "The arbitrator laid out a 86-page decision. Once into arbitration there is a narrow basis to appeal," she said.
Gordon said former DMC CEO Joe Mullany testified in support of Kaki and Elder and told the arbitrator that the two cardiologists had stellar careers while he was at DMC in 2012-17.
"(Former DMC administrator) Scott Steiner (who testified) said he was instructed (by corporate management) to sign the letter in (October 2018) that terminated Kaki and Elder," Gordon said.