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Legal Speak

The Company You Keep

Published June 23, 2009 8:06 AM by Tony DeWitt

When a hospital or a nursing facility hires a physician to work in the capacity of medical director, there is an inherent representation to the families and the public that the facility is vouching for the quality of the doctor. There is a supposition by most residents and their families that the doctor denominated the "medical director" is the person responsible for the quality of medical care provided to residents.  In most cases facilities pay a medical director for services. Unfortunately, all too often physicians seeking appointment have checkered records.

Consider the case of Virginia physician Lewis Rogatnick. Rogatnick had a checkered past when he came to work for Heritage Hall nursing facility in Royal Palm, Virginia. Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York all had disciplined his medical license, and in most cases, for failing to be honest on his applications for the license itself. Although the last censure was in 1999, the pattern of having four suspension on his medical license set of alarm bells with at least one resident who filed a complaint with the facility's licensure board.

Numerous sources exist to check a physician's licensure status and credentials. When a facility endorses a doctor as a medical director, even though the facility tells patients to choose their own doctor, there is an inherent representation that the medical director is a good choice.

Although it is doubtful that the licensing agency will take much time with the complaint against the facility for the medical director's past not being disclosed to patients, the real danger is if the medical director makes significant patient care errors. In that situation the facility might be liable under a doctrine of "ostensible agency." Though not recognized in all states, the possibility exists. If a physician is discovered to have a checkered past, then fact that this was not known to the facility and not discovered prior to the appointment as medical director could seriously impact the facility's chances of being held liable.

For that reason prudence dictates that a full background investigation be performed on any physician denominated as a medical director.

posted by Tony DeWitt


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About this Blog

    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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