State

Doctor sues Los Banos hospital

Dr. John Brannigan, an obstetrician and gynecologist who practiced in Los Banos and Merced, is suing Memorial Hospital Los Banos, its parent company Sutter Health and Dr. Jason Mevi.

The court case -- a jury trial -- is being heard in Superior Court. Brannigan alleges that the hospital, Mevi and Sutter Health retaliated against Brannigan because he complained about the standard of care the hospital was giving its patients.

In the civil suit, Brannigan says he first tried to talk to the supervisors at the hospital about the problems in the labor and delivery area, but nothing was done to correct the problems. He then complained to the California Department of Health Services in 2004, and a surprise visit to the hospital by the department resulted in a statement of deficiency.

The DHS investigates all complaints about hospitals and other health care facilities, and the resulting findings are public record.

In this case, the department found that the quality of care was deficient, and asked the hospital to prepare a plan of correction. Problems included the lack of written policies and procedures for treatment in the obstretical and gynecological care.

Memorial Hospital Los Banos submitted a plan of correction, and it was accepted by the DHS. Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the DHS, said that every complaint about a hospital is investigated, and if the accusations are bad enough it can fine the hospital.

Thirteen California hospitals were each recently fined $25,000 because of problems, Brooks said.

Jeffrey Rager, an attorney from Torrance, is representing Brannigan in the civil suit. He said that Brannigan complained to the hospital in 2003 and 2004 about problems he saw in the labor and delivery area, but his complaints were ignored -- so he went to the state.

After the state filed their findings, Brannigan alleges, hospital staff, including Mevi, retaliated against him.

"They said he had disruptive behavior and poor clinical performance," Rager said, adding that there were no complaints about Brannigan until after he complained.

Brannigan left Los Banos and moved to another state, where he tried to get another job. However, the hospital gave him bad recommendations, Rager said, and Brannigan's license is currently delinquent.

Brannigan was recruited by the hospital in 2002 to work as an OB-GYN. He practiced there through December 2004.

Brannigan also had privileges at Mercy Medical Center Merced, but has not been on staff at Mercy since 2004.

Brannigan also has accusations against him and is being investigated by the Medical Board of California.

The accusations include gross negligence, repeated negligent acts and incompetence.

"It's amazing that these accusations came after the my client complained to the state," Rager said.

Sutter Health spokeswoman Karen Garner said that Sutter has to respect the court process, and cannot discuss the lawsuit.

Sutter Health is a nonprofit hospital organization that runs 27 hospitals in Northern California.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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