Chesapeake Regional files $20M lawsuit against Sentara over cardiologists, open-heart program

Investigative

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Chesapeake Regional Medical Center filed a $20 million lawsuit against Sentara Medical Group alleging that the health care giant worked to edge them out of the competition to provide cardiology care on the Southside.

Sentara provides a wide range of cardiology services across the region, and is one of three hospital systems that provides open-heart surgery to residents on the Southside of Hampton Roads. CRMC does not currently have an open-heart program.

The lawsuit, which was filed in late April in Chesapeake Circuit Court, states that CRMC has long planned to expand its existing cardiology services, including developing an open-heart program. CRMC claimed that Sentara blocked its efforts to do so by openly opposing its application for an open-heart program, according to the lawsuit.

In order to develop an open-heart program in the commonwealth, CRMC needs to get approval from the Virginia Department of Health through the approval of a Certificate of Public Need (COPN). CRMP applied for a COPN in 2017. Initially, VDH staff recommended that the application be granted, but ultimately the agency denied it in 2019. CRMC’s COPN application is currently under appeal.

During the approval process, Sentara openly opposed CRMC’s COPN application. CRMC claims that VDH’s decision to deny their application was heavily influenced by arguments Sentara made when it opposed the COPN, the lawsuit alleges.

Sentara spokesperson Dale Gauding provided a statement to 10 On Your Side investigators regarding the COPN application:

Regarding Certificate of Public Need generally, open-heart surgery is one of the highest-acuity services a patient can undergo, and it is a procedure that is subject to review under the COPN law. Before a hospital can perform open heart surgery, it must prove to the state that an unmet need exists for that service in the area and that the hospital is qualified to provide it. Patients in the region are fortunate to have three open-heart surgery providers. The state health commissioner and the courts came to the conclusion that the region did not need a fourth. Through decades of investment in staff, facilities and technology, Sentara is proud to have one of the leading cardiology practices in the nation. This is a vital service to the community that we will continue to invest in. 

Dale Gauding

According to the lawsuit, Sentara began having “secret meetings” with cardiologists contracted to work at CRMC in 2019. Those cardiologists were employed by Bayview Physician Services and had privileges to provide services at CRMC.

Seven of those cardiologists left Bayview Physician Services and resigned their privileges at CRMC in late 2019. They began working at Sentara in January 2020. CRMC called the doctors the “backbone” of their existing cardiology program, and said their resignation created serious and costly staffing issues at the hospital, according to the lawsuit.

CRMC attorney, Johan Conrod, provided a statement to 10 On Your Side about the litigation, stating:

Chesapeake Regional Healthcare was compelled to file this suit because the organization must protect and defend its ability to fulfill its mission to provide critical medical services for the community it serves. When Chesapeake Regional’s ability to maintain its strong cardiology program is disrupted, CRH must respond in a manner consistent with the hospital’s public charge and its commitment to its core mission.

Johan Conrod

Bayview Physician Services has filed separate litigation in Virginia Beach Circuit Court over the contract dispute involving the cardiologists. That litigation claims that the doctors were working under a contract that included a non-compete clause, which was broken when they began working at Sentara. In court records, an attorney for Sentara disputed that claim, stating that Bayview broke other portions of the employment contract, leaving the noncompete clause null and void. That litigation is pending.

Gauding also offered comment specifically on the Chesapeake litigation:

Regarding the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center litigation, we are focused on our patients and not-for-profit mission to improve health every day by providing safe and quality care to the communities we serve. It is unfortunate that Chesapeake Regional Medical Center chose to file a lawsuit involving a contract dispute, not a Certificate of Public Need, instead of continuing to focus on the communities we serve – especially as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic together.

Dale Gauding

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