A former physician peer review coordinator at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston has sued her old employer, claiming she was fired in May after refusing to illegally reveal confidential peer-review information to a non-peer-review committee.
According to the suit, Memorial Hermann requested that Gertrude Johnson “reveal confidential, privileged, and protected information related to Memorial Hermann’s surgeons’ peer review grades during the ‘filter committee’ meetings at Memorial Hermann.” Ms. Johnson told Memorial Hermann’s legal department, employee physicians, her supervisor, and other executives that she believed disclosing that information would be illegal, the suit claims. She was fired effective May 26, 2018, with Memorial Hermann creating a “pre-textual basis” for the firing by claiming her position had been eliminated, according to the suit.
Ms. Johnson’s attorney, Mike Doyle, says he’s not sure what Memorial Hermann’s “filter committee” is. The suit says it’s an open, non-confidential body that doesn’t qualify as a medical peer review committee under Texas law. Memorial Hermann declined an interview request from Texas Medicine.
“It may be a quality committee, which is an administrative as opposed to a peer-review committee,” Mr. Doyle told Texas Medicine. “But … what my client had the trouble with, and refused to do, was take peer review processes and information and export it out to this other committee that was not a peer review committee.”
Mr. Doyle also represents cardiothoracic surgeon Miguel Gomez, MD, who won more than $6 million last year in a defamation suit against Memorial Hermann. That case involved alleged questionable peer-review activity on the part of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. Memorial Hermann has appealed the verdict.
Based on his discussions with Ms. Johnson, Mr. Doyle says he thinks Memorial Hermann is “trying to push the peer review to the system level, which really means the administrators run it, as opposed to the ‘peers,’ and that way they can exercise control.”
“In Dr. Gomez’ case … the peer review [committee] basically evaluated it and cleared him, so to speak. The administrators obviously didn’t like that result. So they want to have control of this, and the most direct way is to actually kind of evade the already existing peer review structures so that it’s in administrative control, as opposed to a medical staff control, of the process. That’s what this kind of seems to be.”
Ms. Johnson’s suit, filed on June 29 in Harris County District Court, claims Memorial Hermann has “already discussed and planned to fill [her] position again in July , despite its false claims to Ms. Johnson that the position had been eliminated.” The suit seeks more than $1 million in damages.