A statewide professional association has voiced its support for a lawsuit brought against Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center on behalf of its medical staff. The Minnesota Medical Association's Executive Committee announced this week it had voted unanimously to support the medical staff and its elected chief of staff in the lawsuit against the hospital.
Minnesota Medical Association CEO Robert Meiches said Friday that the lawsuit was a concern for the organization, especially because the outcome would ultimately affect patients at the hospital. The MMA is a professional association representing more than 11,000 physicians around the state.
The lawsuit the MMA is backing was filed by Dr. Steven Meister, the hospital's chief of staff, and Dr. Jane Willett in Lyon County District Court last month. The lawsuit alleges that Avera Marshall has violated medical staff bylaws, and prevented the chief of staff and the hospital's Medical Executive Committee from fulfilling their duties, including holding meetings of the executive committee, appointing physicians to the medical staff and conducting peer review proceedings.
The Avera Marshall medical staff is made up of all practitioners who have been credentialed by the hospital, regardless of affiliation.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking a judgment that the medical staff bylaws are a contract between Avera Marshall and the medical staff, as well as an injunction against Avera Marshall breaking the bylaws.
Meiches said the case is a concern for the MMA. The medical staff responsibilities at issue in the lawsuit should be left to physicians, he said. A medical staff needs a certain degree of autonomy to protect standards of care for patients.
"Our interest is in the patients, and the people of Marshall and surrounding communities," Meiches said.
However, Avera Marshall President and CEO Mary Maertens said Friday that the MMA's decision was disappointing.
"We have great respect for the MMA and its members, but it's regrettable that the organization has let itself be drawn into this situation without speaking to us or fully reviewing the circumstances," Maertens said. "A full reading of this matter would make it clear that what's at issue here is an effort to usurp the role of the hospital's community-based board, administration and Avera Medical Group physicians."
In supporting the lawsuit, the MMA is only supporting part of Avera Marshall's medical staff, Maertens and Avera Marshall physician Edward Wolske said.
"The only members of the medical staff who support this action are those aligned with Affiliated Community Medical Centers," Wolske said in a statement Friday.
He said the rest of the medical staff submitted signed statements to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, saying that it did not reflect their views.
"I feel the same way about the MMA's action. It is not a gesture of support for me or my colleagues," Wolske said.
Meiches said the MMA has asked for additional support from the American Medical Association Litigation Center to back the medical staff in the lawsuit. He said the MMA should receive the AMA's answer in the near future.
Avera Marshall filed an answer to the lawsuit in Lyon County District Court on Jan. 30. A motion hearing on the suit has been set for March 21.