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Lawsuit against Hospital filed Friday

by Susie Vasquez

Carson City surgeon Dr. Kent Skogerson sued Carson-Tahoe Hospital on Friday over a moratorium on weight-control surgery.

Also Friday, hospital officials announced the moratorium will be lifted Feb. 1.

In a complaint filed in Carson City District Court by attorney Patrick King, the doctor accuses the hospital of fraud, breach of contract, conspiracy, defamation and negligence.

Several hospital officials are named in the lawsuit, including Chief Executive Officer Ed Epperson, Chief Financial Officer Michael Blair, Chief of Nursing Cathy Dinauer and Chief of Staff Dr. Anthony Field.

“(The) defendants, in bad faith, contrived to curtail Dr. Skogerson’s surgical privileges by instituting a ‘moratorium’ on bariatric surgery without giving Dr. Skogerson advanced notice or sharing with Dr. Skogerson their reasons for instituting the moratorium,” the lawsuit alleges.

A surgeon in Carson City for about 18 years, Skogerson’s practice is comprised primarily of bariatric patients.

The last resort for patients who have tried but cannot lose weight, the procedure involves either sealing off the stomach to reduce the amount of food absorbed or rearranging the small intestine to reduce the number of calories that can be absorbed.

Preparation for the procedure involves numerous tests and consultations over months or even years, and Skogerson had 24 patients lined up for surgery when, in November, the program was suspended.

“Defendants prevented Dr. Skogerson from operating on his patients needing surgery and prevented him from providing (them) with the continuity of care that his patients need and are entitled to,” the lawsuit says. “The callous, malicious and destructive manner in which the defendants interfered with and prevented Dr. Skogerson from providing medical care and treatment to his patients has, and was designed to, destroy his medical practice and to injure his reputation.”

The suit seeks compensation and punitive damages. No dollar amounts are specified.

Carson-Tahoe attorney Mike Pavlakis said Friday it was Skogerson who made the matter a public issue.

“The hospital acted in the interest of patient safety, not maliciously toward Dr. Skogerson or any of his patients,” he said.

The moratorium was imposed Nov. 21, 2003, following the death of a 31-year-old bariatric patient at Carson-Tahoe. On Friday, Carson-Tahoe officials announced the moratorium will end Feb. 1.

“As we stated upon program suspension, the Board of Trustees has the ultimate responsibility for patient care,” Epperson said. “The board is comfortable that a thorough review and analysis of current processes was performed and the appropriate follow-up was completed.”

He said the hospital will make every reasonable effort to accommodate patients who had their procedures canceled during the program’s suspension.

“We recognize that some patients may have felt inconvenienced,” Epperson said. “We will work with our physicians to re-schedule patients in accordance with the formalized policies and protocol.

“I want to be clear that patient safety is the foundation on which all of our decisions are made and the newly-adopted policies and protocol will be followed to meet the standards for patient safety specified by the hospital,” he said.

Contact Susie Vasquez at svasquez@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.