MARSHALL - Supporters of a civil suit filed against Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center on behalf of its medical staff now include the American Medical Association. The Minnesota Medical Association announced Thursday that the AMA Litigation Center has agreed to offer its support for the lawsuit.
"The MMA welcomes the support of the Litigation Center to assist the Avera Marshall medical staff and its executive committee," said Robert Meiches, CEO of MMA, in a Thursday news release. "Our main concern in this case is the role and use of the medical staff in the governance process to protect the quality of health care for hospital patients and for people in the Marshall area."
While the Litigation Center is not a party in the lawsuit, it can provide support for the plaintiffs during the legal process.
The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Steven Meister, the hospital's chief of staff, and Dr. Jane Willett in Lyon County District Court last month. The suit 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. The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment that the bylaws are a contract between the hospital and the medical staff.
Avera Marshall President and CEO Mary Maertens said Friday that the AMA's decision to support the plaintiffs was disappointing.
"We have great respect for the American Medical Association, but we're disappointed that, like its state chapter, the Minnesota Medical Association, it has allowed itself to be drawn into a dispute that is not what it seems," Maertens said. The only members of the hospital's medical staff supporting the lawsuit are aligned with hospital competitor Affiliated Community Medical Centers, she said.
Avera Marshall has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and on Wednesday filed a more detailed response to the suit, in the form of a memorandum of law. In the memo, Avera Marshall argued that the Avera Marshall medical staff and Medical Executive Committee do not have legal standing to sue the hospital. Background information included in the memo also said Avera-aligned physicians on the hospital's medical staff were not informed of the lawsuit before it was filed, and Avera physicians submitted letters objecting to the lawsuit in late January and early February. ACMC is paying for the lawsuit, and not the Medical Executive Committee, the memo said.
In a Friday press release, Wendy Burt, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Hospital Association, said the hospital has its own duties to fulfill to uphold standards of care for patients.
"It's the view of the MHA that hospital boards and their management teams have clear legal, financial and ethical responsibilities to uphold in managing their facilities and ensuring the safety and best possible treatment of patients in their care," Burt said. "Those responsibilities can only be properly discharged with clear lines of authority, including delineating the responsibilities and authority of the medical staff who practice at Avera Marshall."
Burt also expressed concerns that the lawsuit could create a distraction from providing quality medical care in the community.
A hearing in the lawsuit in Lyon County District Court has been set for April 18.