Doctor files $15 million suit

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   An Elizabethton obstetrician has filed a $15 million lawsuit against three physicians including two local doctors whom she alleges sought to destroy her medical practice.
   Filed Thursday in Carter County Circuit Court, the lawsuit names Drs. John D. Green and Brent D. Laing of First Medical Group in Elizabethton as defendants against plaintiff Dr. Juliet K. Markham. The lawsuit also names Dr. William A. Block Jr., of ETSU Physicians Obstetrics and Gynecology, 325 N. State of Franklin Road, Johnson City, as a defendant.
   According to the lawsuit, Markham applied for obstetric and gynecology privileges at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in June of 2001. The lawsuit states when Markham approached Green and Laing to establish a call schedule she was allegedly told "she was not wanted here" and "you are a woman and will take all of our business". The lawsuit contends the doctors refused to share call with Markham.
   The lawsuit alleges Block - identified as a "good friend" of Green - began harassing Markham regarding medical procedures at the Johnson City Medical Center Hospital. Block allegedly told Markham "I'm going to get you" while he was attending a patient in labor, the lawsuit reads.
   The lawsuit further reads that during a meeting in August of 2001, Laing allegedly told Markham he had "substantial influence" and could make life "easy or difficult" for her. He also allegedly told Markham she was inadequately trained, in his opinion, although she had completed an accredited residence, the lawsuit contends. Laing allegedly offered her a position in his office as nurse practitioner, which she refused since her own medical practice was doing well, the lawsuit reads.
   At the time of the meeting with Laing, Markham also had practice privileges at the Johnson City Medical Center Hospital according to the lawsuit. In January 2002, Markham received obstetric privileges at Sycamore Shoals, but her gynecological privileges she had applied for at the same time were lost. Her OB privileges were delayed for 7 months. The lawsuit identifies Dr. Laing as being chairman of the committee approving the privileges.
   Markham passed her Ob-Gyn board certification in June 2002. The lawsuit alleges Block further harassed her, and, as a result of his alleged actions, her privileges were suspended in November 2002. After taking reassurances she could take her oral board examinations, she entered into mentoring arrangement and her privileges at JCMCH were reinstated June 19, 2003.
   However, the lawsuit reads that contrary to assurances given Markham by doctors and committees at JCMCH, she was ruled not eligible to take her oral board exams by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology since she had mentored cases.
   The lawsuit reads when practice privileges are obtained at any MSHA facility, it does not automatically grant privileges at all other MSHA facilities. Ed Herbert, vice president of marketing for Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), said Thursday afternoon that physicians were required to apply for and receive practicing privileges at each MSHA facility. He declined comment on the status of practice privileges for any physician party to Markham's lawsuit citing professional confidentiality agreements between hospitals and medical professionals. MSHA owns both JCMCH and Sycamore Shoals Hospital, but the lawsuit did not name any of the organization's facilities or personnel as defendants.
   Markham had her privileges reinstated at Sycamore Shoals on Dec. 15, 2003. She alleges the harassment by Green continued after she performed an emergency Cesarean section on a patient that was discussed with her mentoring doctor.
   The lawsuit alleges one of the defendants breached peer review confidentiality by making a report to Sycamore Shoals Hospital administrator outside the proper channels. Markham's complaint also alleges that since she has been on the mentoring program, there has been a "false and malicious report filed by one of the defendants that an immediate investigation" conducted by another physician found was "baseless".
   Regarding Sycamore Shoals Hospital, the lawsuit reads that a block schedule arrangement has been established that has substantially reduced operating time available to Markham and her mentoring physician. The suit reads Drs. Green and Laing are permitted 24 hours per week of block time while she and her mentor are given only two hours per week. The practice represents intentional interference and restraint of trade, the lawsuit alleges.
   The lawsuit alleges Laing and Green defamed Markham, conspired to damage her practice, interfered with her peer process review and committed the alleged acts with malice for the purpose of economic gain. The lawsuit further alleges Block defamed Markham, conspired to damage her practice and used his position in the peer review process at JCMCH to initiate a bad faith peer review against Markham.
   The lawsuit reads that the alleged actions represent a "civil conspiracy as the goal was the common purpose to destroy the reputation and practice of Dr. Markham".
   Markham seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. She asks for a jury to hear the case and requests triple damages be awarded to Markham in accordance with the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. She also seeks to be reinstated on the medical staff of JCMC and Sycamore Shoals hospitals.
   Attorney Ralph M. Bard of Tullahoma filed the lawsuit on behalf of Markham. A voice mail message left at the office of Green and Laing was not returned Thursday night. Block was not immediately available for comment Thursday.