$33 Million Settlement in Spine Cases [Albuquerque Journal, N.M.]By Colleen Heild, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
July 29--About 8 0 malpractice claims against two physicians and Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo have been settled for more than $33 million.
The agreement will permit the 65-year-old nonprofit hospital to emerge from bankruptcy protection it sought a year ago, citing the "onslaught" of lawsuits alleging fraud, negligence and battery.
But the case continues against two of the insurers for the firm that manages the hospital, where patients with back problems were injected with Plexiglas-like bone cement in an unorthodox procedure that left them with severe pain and injuries.
An attorney for the hospital didn't return a Journal phone call or an email. A hospital spokeswoman didn't return a request for comment last week.
Lisa K. Curtis, an Albuquerque attorney who is one of eight lawyers representing the former patients, said the partial settlement will end the bankruptcy proceeding that could have jeopardized the hospital's f inancial viability.
"We worked with the hospital to keep it alive," Curtis said. "We need there to be a hospital in Alamogordo. Our clients need a reasonable place to get care."
Court records show the litigation will now focus on two insurance companies for Quorum Health Resources LLC, a national firm that manages more than 150 hospitals nationwide. So far Lexington Insurance Company, which is owned by AIG, and Ironshore Insurance have refused to pay damages, court records show.
Quorum was accused of negligently hiring and supervising Dr. Christian Schlicht, allowing him and his colleague, Dr. Frank Bryant, to perform the questionable spinal procedures between 2006 and 2008.
According to bankruptcy court records, QHR and another insurance company will pay about $13.5 million toward the settlement, while the hospital will contribute about $7.5 million over three years. Bryant settled for $11.5 million.
QHR, meanwhile, will continue to manage care at Gerald Champion, which is Otero County's largest healthcare facility, court records show.
Before settlement proceeds are disbursed to the plaintiffs, Medicare, Medicaid and other third-party insurers that paid for the controversial surgeries will be reimbursed and attorneys fees paid. It isn't clear from bankruptcy records how much each patient will receive.
Since filing suit, four of the 80 former patients have died. One expert attributed one of those deaths to a complication of receiving the cement injection.
"We are fighting for these people to have some justice," said Las Cruces attorney Denise Torres, who represents 12 former patients. "Whatever justice we can get is not going to be enough," Torres said. "But there's at least four people who won't see it. They're gone, and that is what really is sad."
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