As Ventura’s Community Memorial Hospital and its rebellious doctors girded for their first legal confrontation Thursday, the hospital angered several physicians by serving them with subpoenas at their homes around midnight Monday or early Tuesday morning.
The summons to appear for sworn testimony were served on five physicians hours after they joined with more than 100 other medical staff members to vote no confidence in hospital administrators and to declare their support for a lawsuit filed last week against the medical center.
“My subpoena came at 11:30 at night, waking up my wife and daughter,” said Dr. Brian Brantner. “I think it’s pure, simple harassment.”
Brantner, a plastic surgeon stripped of Community Memorial staff privileges earlier this month, said he has been served with subpoenas 15 or 20 times in his 22-year career but that servers always came to his office during working hours.
“They know where to find me, so I think this is completely inappropriate,” he said. “This is personal when it comes to the administration.”
Three of the doctors were served subpoenas about midnight and two were served about 7 a.m. Tuesday, the physicians said.
Attorney Peter Goldenring, who represents Community Memorial, said the subpoenas were served on doctors late at night partly because the dissident physicians were at a meeting in Ventura earlier in the evening.
“They were unavailable otherwise, so the process servers were simply doing their job,” he said. “There are a number of physicians that are making themselves unavailable during the day at their offices.”
He dismissed the no-confidence vote as insignificant.
“The timing of the lawsuit and their rally last night is part of a continuing effort of a small group to derail the credible mediation process that was proceeding” before the lawsuit was filed, he said.
Administrators have said the hospital has about 340 staff members and that the rebellious physicians are in the minority. The physicians group estimates the number of active doctors at between 200 and 250 and says that most support their actions. Doctors who back the administration have characterized the unrest as nothing more than a family squabble.
Community Memorial has been embroiled in an internal fight for about a year, as the 242-bed hospital has tightened controls over its medical staff, and physicians have bristled at what they see as an erosion of their rights as a self-governing branch of the hospital.
After attempts at mediation, a group of physicians led by a majority of the medical staff executive committee filed suit Thursday, contending that administrators have jeopardized patient care and violated physicians’ rights, including the seizure of about $250,000 in medical staff funds.
The doctors contend that administrators tried to rig a staff election, adopted an 18-page “code of conduct” to muzzle opponents, implemented a conflict-of-interest policy to disqualify select physicians from leadership positions and illegally allowed physicians to practice at the hospital without the staff’s review.
Goldenring said the dispute is purely financial. Some doctors want the privilege of practicing at Community Memorial and acting as physician representatives even as they compete with the hospital for business and snipe anonymously at administrators, he said.
He said the courts will uphold the right of the hospital’s board of trustees to be the ultimate authority at the medical center. The medical staff functions as an advisory group only, he said.
“The lawsuit has no merit; the allegations are false,” Goldenring said. “CMH has been providing medical care to our community for over 100 years, and what they state is offensive ....”
The legal test of the opposing views begins at an 8:30 a.m. hearing Thursday before Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh. He will consider the physicians’ request for a court order blocking hospital interference in medical staff affairs, including sanctions against doctors.
Physicians’ attorneys argue in court papers that a temporary restraining order is needed to keep the hospital from destroying the medical staff’s independence and undermining its legal mandate as patient advocate.
“The members of the medical staff are individually and collectively responsible for the care of ... patients, and yet the means by which the medical staff is to lawfully protect the patient care is completely denied them,” Pasadena lawyer Tom Curtis argues in requesting the restraining order.
Goldenring said he will file a response today.