Courts & Corrections

Surgeon accuses St. Albans hospital of deliberately infecting his patients

An orthopedic surgeon is suing Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans for allegedly infecting his patients with bacteria in an effort to “destroy his career and falsely blame him for the infections,” court records show.

Dr. Raymond A. Long claims in U.S. District Court in Burlington that the hospital was motivated by a desire to “kill the competition.” He is suing Northwestern and its management company Quorum Health Resources LLC to void a federal report and provide damages for tarnishing his reputation and causing him to lose income.

In 2001, Northwestern granted Long the privilege of performing surgery and practicing medicine at the hospital. Long says he told hospital doctors in 2002 that he was considering adding an MRI machine to his office. At the time, he alleges, Northwestern was involved in “an illegal kickback scheme with respect to X-ray facilities” and the hospital was planning to have a new MRI machine built for its facilities.

Long claims that in 2003 Northwestern staff “deliberately contaminated several of (his) surgeries with bacteria acquired by the hospital, thereby causing a series of life and limb threatening infections.”

Long then claims that in 2003 Northwestern staff “deliberately contaminated several of (his) surgeries with bacteria acquired by the hospital, thereby causing a series of life and limb threatening infections.” The irrigation fluid he used on those patients during surgery was tested and was “heavily contaminated,” his complaint says.

At the request of then-CEO Peter Hofstetter, Northwestern conducted a peer review of Long’s behavior in March 2004 due to alleged staff concerns and Long’s disruption of hospital services. The hospital’s chief of surgery quickly pulled together a peer review of Long’s activity at the hospital.

The peer review found that he was confrontational and asked operating room staff to deviate from hospital protocol, while acknowledging “it is understandable that Dr. Long would be concerned about recent post-surgical infections.” The review committee recommended Long should be subjected to a psychiatric evaluation and his charts be sent out for external review.

James Duncan, chair of the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee, wrote to the hospital’s board of directors in April 2004. He told the board that his committee had met with Long and had reviewed his history of disputes with the hospital’s administration.

“The committee is troubled and saddened that those disagreements exist and seem to have taken on a life of their own, resulting in Dr. Long’s apparent conviction that he is a victim of a criminal conspiracy on the part of the hospital CEO,” Duncan wrote. “The Committee … is deeply concerned as to his emotional stability and psychological well being.”

Two days later, on April 7, 2004, Long resigned from Northwestern Medical Center. In the complaint, Long’s attorney writes that the hospital did not honor Long’s alleged request to bring in an independent specialist to investigate the infections.

“Faced with the foregoing inexcusable danger to his patients, Plaintiff had no rational choice other than to resign,” Herbert Ogden, one of Long’s attorneys, wrote.

At the end of April 2004, Northwestern filed an Adverse Action Report on Long with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Practitioner Data Bank for voluntarily giving up his clinical privileges “while under, or to avoid, investigation,” an adviser at the data bank wrote.

In 2011, Long requested that the data bank void the incident. In 2012, a representative told him “there is no basis” to do so.

Long filed suit in July. According to his trial attorney, he is practicing medicine in Florida.

The expert testimony and the trial lawyer

Dr. William Jarvis was a top official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from 1980 to 2003. He held positions such as the chief of the CDC’s Epidemiology Branch, chief of the Investigation and Prevention Branch and acting director of the Hospital Infections Program.

In 2011, Jarvis reviewed four of Long’s cases, where patients had surgical infections from shoulder surgery or showed signs of such infections. All of the operations were within one month of each other in late 2003.

Jarvis found the closeness of these infections to be “very unusual,” especially considering they were joint procedures with “very low-risk.” He said that it is unlikely the infections were a result of organisms living on the patient, contaminated surgical equipment, Long’s technique or the technique of other operating room personnel.

“A much more likely explanation of how the operating room irrigation fluid became contaminated and how the 3-4 (infections) occurred is that the patients were intentionally infected through extrinsically and intentionally contaminated irrigation fluid (or other fluids, medications, equipment or materials) provided by NMC personnel and used by Dr. Long,” he wrote.

Long’s legal team hired Jarvis.

“Yes, he is a paid expert,” said Judd Burstein, the attorney who is representing Long. “There are a number of ways you hire an expert. Sometimes you hire them to basically say what you want them to say. That is not Jarvis. Jarvis was a guy who was hired to opine on the truth.”

Burstein, a New York City-based attorney, said that he took the case because of Jarvis’ findings.

“This is an astounding story that boggles the imagination, and, for me, I was just completely shocked when I saw Dr. Jarvis’ report,” he said. “I came at this with a very, very skeptical eye because the story is so extreme, and I am shocked and dismayed from what I can tell is a true story.”

Northwestern Vice President Jonathan Billings said the hospital is considering how to proceed.

“At this point in the process,” he said, “the hospital is unable to comment on the specific matter.”

Burstein said the compensation Long and his team are looking for is “very substantial … certainly seven or eight figures.”

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Andrew Stein

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  • rosemarie jackowski

    Very interesting….VT Digger, please keep us updated on this one.

  • Lynn Nila

    I admire the surgeon for speaking what he believes against the odds…

  • Theresa Maurice

    Have been following this storyline for a bit. Jarvis input is quite interesting, and perhaps can bring to light some truth. Truth can be stranger than fiction. That seems to be the Vermont medical way.

  • joe griffin

    As an aside to the above story,I will reveal the following. Mr.Hoffstetter the CEO in the article, ended up in Taos N.M. , where I had worked for 12 yrs. The board of directors decided (despite the above story), to give Mr. Hoffstetter a chance to run this hospital. Since his arrival the hospital is 10million plus in the red. Many long term residents have lost jobs 40 just recently ( I believe the grand total to date is around 80), a staggering amount considering the size of this hospital. Among these are Surgeons and Anesthesia providers in some instances the jobs were then replaced by Quorum friendly firms. Having seen all the above changes I would believe in Dr. Long and his side of this issue including the words from Mr. Hoffstetter to him ” aren’t you afraid of me yet”. Indeed, in this case Truth may be stranger than fiction.