Physician contests loss of hospital privileges

Dr. Richard Chudacoff has always had a high level of confidence in his abilities as a physician and teacher of medicine.

He didn’t look over his shoulder while teaching at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, nor did he second guess his procedures at two of the nation’s top hospitals — St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and The Methodist Hospital.

That confidence took a hit, though, when Chudacoff received a letter from Dr. John Ellerton, chief of staff at University Medical Center, telling him his medical privileges had been suspended because of disruptive behavior and four surgery complications within a four-month time span.

The decision was made by the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee.

Chudacoff, who came to Nevada in 2007 to be closer to his mother in Palm Springs, Calif., has filed a complaint against UMC in federal court claiming defamation and a violation of his constitutional rights. The suspension and the reporting of it to the National Practitioner Data Bank are the cornerstone of the complaint.

The suspension came without warning, he said, and he was never given a chance to respond to the charges prior to the data bank’s receipt of the suspension.

Chudacoff claims UMC’s actions were in retaliation for a April 16 e-mail he sent to Dr. Paul G. Stumpf, chairman of the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s obstetrics and gynecology department.

In that e-mail, Chudacoff highlighted what he felt were “weaknesses in the training of residents at UMC,” and offered some suggestions on how to better train these new doctors. Instead of listening to his suggestions in the private e-mail, Chudacoff believes Stumpf forwarded that information to UMC’s obstetrics and gynecology department, which eventually led to his suspension.

“It was not only the fact that they reported but the blatant lies that were in the report that was the coup de grace that suggested to me a premeditated yet unwarranted action,” Chudacoff said about UMC submitting an adverse report to the national data bank. “Is it because I see a weakness in the training of the residents at UMC and I have offered to raise the bar of surgical skills and patient care, thus rocking the status quo? I don’t know.”

UMC officials would not comment about the complaint or Chudacoff’s accusations.

Tammy McMahan, a hospital spokeswoman, said UMC couldn’t comment on any action taken by the Medical Executive Committee because it is a separate entity. Ellerton signed Chudacoff’s suspension letter. He could not be reached for comment this week.

He is one of two physicians currently at odds with the county hospital. Dr. James Tate earlier this month was ordered not to perform trauma surgeries after an altercation with a family of a teen hurt in an auto accident. Tate says UMC officials also failed to talk to him before taking disciplinary action. He maintains he was defending himself from aggressive family members.

UMC officials have declined comment on the Tate matter.

According to Ellerton’s letter, dated May 28, Chudacoff was placed on a Focused Professional Practice evaluation and his obstetrical privileges were suspended. The two-page letter goes on to say that Chudacoff cannot perform any surgeries unless Dr. Nick Spirtos, director of gynecological and oncology services at UMC, is in the operating room with him.

Chudacoff was ordered to submit to drug testing and placed on a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior, the suspension report said.

His suspension was reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank in June, according to the adverse report.

The data bank is an information clearinghouse that collects and releases information related to the professional competence and conduct of physicians, dentists and other health care practitioners.

David Bowman, a spokesman for the data bank, said health care providers routinely report to the data bank when a physician has lost clinical privileges. That information remains in the system unless the reporting entity asks that the information be amended or removed.

In its report to the data bank, UMC officials said Chudacoff’s clinical privileges were suspended because he provided substandard or inadequate care and displayed substandard or inadequate skills.

The report goes on to say that the obstetrician had “four serious operative complications during gynecologic surgery, in a four month period,” and that Chudacoff failed to respond to an obstetrical emergency when asked by a resident and nurse. It also noted disruptive behavior.

“They are basically saying this guy is horrible; this guy is dangerous without ever giving him an opportunity to respond,” said Jacob Hafter, Chudacoff’s attorney. “He was the attending physician. It wasn’t his hands that caused the problems. The harm was done by the residents.”

Hafter, a former paramedic, said UMC failed to notify Chudacoff of the alleged disruptive behavior and that Chudacoff has not had any medical malpractice complaints filed against him regarding those patients’ complications. The procedures took place between February and May.

“If they are so concerned about patient safety why are the residents still practicing?” the attorney asked.

Chudacoff, 49, who has privileges at Mountain View and Summerlin hospitals, admits he was responsible for the residents during those shifts. However, he said if UMC was “worried about my surgical skills after the index cases, then they should have, at the least, discussed that with me.”

As for the disruptive behavior charge, Hafter says UMC violated its own policy on handling such accusations. According to that policy, the hospital’s chief of staff should have notified Chudacoff of the allegation. Also, if the chief of staff identifies a pattern of disruptive behavior they “shall discuss the matter verbally and in writing” with the individual.

Chudacoff said that other than a conversation he had with Ellerton on May 28 — the day suspension letter was sent to him — he had never been told of being disruptive.

According to Ellerton’s letter, the Medical Executive Committee met on May 27.

Chudacoff said he wants the adverse action report removed from the data bank because it has left a black mark on his reputation. Already, he claims, other Las Vegas gynecologists don’t speak with him.

On July 2, Chudacoff’s insurance attorney, Anthony D. Lauria, filed a motion in federal court requesting that UMC return his hospital privileges and revoke the report submitted to the data bank.

Contact reporter Annette Wells at or 702-383-0283.

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