Has Baylor Health System lost its Soul?
By James Girards
For our first real blog of the year, we revisit the tragedy that is Christopher Duntsch, MD. We wrote about him on December 19 here. Recall that he is the Plano, Texas spine surgeon who killed and maimed a large number of people before anyone would do anything to stop him. Today, we go deeper into this tragedy. Today we are asking the question "who allowed a cocaine-addicted alcoholic doctor - who was so obviously incompetent in the operating room that other doctors though he might be an imposter - to do surgery on people's spines?" The answer is "Baylor Health System," according to a lawsuit filed by The Girards Law Firm. The full complaint is available here. As it turns out, Baylor Health System (specifically the Baylor subsidiary that is Baylor Medical Center of Plano) hired Dr. Duntsch through a tortured path of financial manipulations with Dallas' Minimally Invasive Spine Institute ["MISI"]. Baylor wanted a spine surgeon because it makes a lot of money by keeping the operating room busy with that kind of surgery. MISI makes a lot of money doing spine surgeries, as well. In order to accomplish this, Baylor cut a deal with MISI where Baylor agreed to pay MISI $600,000 that MISI would pass through to Duntsch. In return, MISI would "hire" Duntsch and he would work at Baylor Plano - and MISI would pass the cash on to Duntsch with a "promissory note" that would actually let MISI and Duntsch off the hook for paying it back. Sound like a sweet deal? You can read the actual documents here and see the actual checks that Baylor wrote here. We are not going to delve into whether this arrangement was legal - at least not today. Instead, we are going to ask whether Baylor failed to ask the right questions when allowing Duntsch onto its staff, and whether it looked the other way when crazy things were happening inside its walls. We are asking whether Baylor may have done that because it was more interested in making good on its investment - or simply was too worried about losing its money by kicking Duntsch off the staff. So first, understanding that up to 20% of physicians suffer from a drug or alcohol impairment one would wonder if Baylor asked Duntsch's training program if he had been treated for drug abuse while in training. Well, it turns out Baylor neither asked nor screened Duntsch for drugs as part of its routine credentialing process. Had Baylor asked, it would have learned that Duntsch was reported in his training program to have used cocaine right before a surgery and did a stint in an impaired physician's program as a result. Duntsch was also known for dodging drug screens - so we will suggest that he may have done the same thing with Baylor had he been asked to pee in a cup at that time. That is a big red flag of course and Duntsch actually dodged a drug screen at Baylor a few weeks later. But, Baylor wasn't interested enough to have him do so. Once Duntsch accepted the deal and came to Dallas - where he lived at the W Hotel and ZaZa compliments of MISI as a matter of fact - he abandoned a patient at Baylor Plano to take a three-day binge in Las Vegas. MISI wasn't happy about that and it parted company with Duntsch. Baylor did not act on this information or interview the folks involved - which we say would have revealed a lot of red flags leading to Duntsch's exposure. Instead, Baylor cut a deal with Duntsch directly and offered him a $50,000 stipend and a "Chief of" title, according to folks inside the hospital. But, Duntsch was required to do a drug screen as part of this process - and he dodged it. Baylor didn't seize on this red flag either. His behavior during the Fall of 2011 was erratic. Still no investigation. On December 30, 2011, he did a spine surgery that is described in the complaint mentioned at the top of this blog. During this surgery, the assistant surgeon who had been assigned to the room recognized Duntsch did not know what he was doing. This surgeon describes Duntsch as "clueless" "inept," and "dangerous" - all the while operating near the patient's spinal cord. Duntsch was so dangerous that the assistant surgeon grabbed Duntsch's surgical instruments in the midst of the surgery and demanded he stop. Baylor staff in the room either did not report the incident as required - or they did and Baylor did nothing in response. Either way, Duntsch continued to wreak havoc. Weeks later he killed a patient and paralyzed another. During this time, witnesses say Duntsch had a jug of vodka under his desk both at the hospital and at his home. A bag of white powder was found in his bathroom at the Baylor professional building. Duntsch would do crazy things like pee on the floor, according to witnesses. Still, Baylor did nothing. After some turmoil surrounding the patient who was paralyzed and the patient's statement that he and Duntsch did "8-balls" the night before that surgery, Duntsch resigned from the Baylor staff. And, that is when Baylor wrote letters to other metroplex hospitals that allowed Duntsch to go on staff at those facilities and continue to create his human debris trail. We will be bringing you more on that later, as well.
There are many more implications to this story than the obvious. The most obvious is how come no one at Baylor is going to jail over this. Another is why the Texas legislature and the Texas Supreme Court have created a system in which a hospital can do what Baylor has done and get away with it - or if they get caught not have to pay full compensation for the lives destroyed. More on that part later, as well. In the meantime, if the reader would like to contact his or her state representatives to demand that the laws be fixed so Baylor can be held fully accountable you can find your legislators here: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx
For more information on this case or help in any medical malpractice or serious injury or death case contact The Girards Law Firm at 888-333-9709 or 214-346-9529.