Interventional cardiologist sues hospital under Whistleblower's Act

November 03, 2009

Burlington, MA - Cardiologist Dr David Gossman has filed a lawsuit against the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA, where he used to work as assistant director of the cath lab, claiming that he was fired for complaining about ties between the hospital and some of its senior staff with the medical device company Medtronic [1]. Gossman is seeking damages for defamation and violations of the Massachusetts Healthcare Whistleblower Act.

According to a report in the Courthouse News Service, the suit, filed in Middlesex County Court, claims that two senior cardiologists at the clinic—Dr Thomas Piemonte, director of interventional cardiology and the cardiac catheterization lab, and Dr Richard Nesto, chair of the cardiology department—pressured other doctors at the hospital to increase use of Medtronic products. It alleges that Piemonte earns "substantial yearly income" serving on the Medtronic speakers' bureau and that Piemonte's wife has had a "lengthy employment" with Medtronic and holds stock in the company.

The suit also claims that that Medtronic offered Piemonte and the hospital "access to the CoreValve, a new heart valve that will be in clinical trials in the US soon, predicated on the purchase and increased utilization of other products made by Medtronic." It also alleges that Piemonte and Nesto told a new doctor that her low usage of Medtronic stents jeopardized the hospital's access to cutting-edge medical technologies.

Gossman says he was fired after voicing ethical objections to these arrangements. He says he was fired on September 8, 2009, shortly after he had attended a lecture about medical ethics at the hospital where he asked a hypothetical question about the hospital's ethical position on a situation in which a medical device company approaches a hospital offering access to a new investigational device but predicates access to the device on increased utilization of other products sold by the company. He claims that later that day, Piemonte and Nesto sought negative feedback about him from nursing staff and technicians and used this to get him fired.

A Medtronic spokesman told heart wire that the company was unaware of the lawsuit before it was reported in the media, and it had not yet had the opportunity to thoroughly look into it. He added: "We expect that all of our employees adhere to our very strict policies and code of conduct regarding the sale of our products."

A spokesperson for the Lahey Clinic told heart wire that there was no factual basis to the allegations in the lawsuit. He added: "Lahey has an impeccable record in the area of corporate compliance and holds itself to the very highest ethical standards in the industry. Dr Gossman repeatedly demonstrated himself to be unsuited to the kind of behavior that characterizes Lahey Clinic. A detailed assessment was made during the summer of 2009 and the conclusion was reached that the severe problems Dr Gossman had caused in his relationships with colleagues were beyond remedy. As such, the decision that Dr Gossman and Lahey had to part company was made before the isolated suggestion set forth in his complaint. Dr Gossman's isolated suggestion played no part in his conduct-based dismissal from Lahey Clinic."

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