The medical director at Community Memorial Hospital confirmed Tuesday that he has resigned, saying he wants to help the embattled Ventura medical center end a two-year dispute with staff doctors that resulted in a lawsuit and the exodus of physicians to other facilities.
Dr. Richard Reisman said that effective Monday Dr. Peter Gaal, a veteran heart surgeon, would replace him as medical director at Ventura County's most venerable hospital. The move follows by seven weeks the forced resignation of the hospital's chief administrator, Michael Bakst.
Bakst and Reisman had headed an administrative team criticized by about 100 rebellious physicians for allegedly undermining the doctors' authority by seizing their bank account and unilaterally imposing new staff bylaws and hospital policies.
"It's been a very difficult two years," Reisman, 55, said in an interview. "I explained to the board that it would be in the best interests of the hospital, the medical staff and myself for them to select another physician to take over."
Gaal, 73, is a former chief of the medical staff. During the last year he has served as an informal mediator between the administration and its dissident doctors.
"Dr. Gaal is the perfect individual to be a liaison and a communicator and a peacemaker," Reisman said. "Clearly, I was identified with the administration and the board of the hospital. I felt it might be good for someone else to help us through this healing process."
Reisman said he would continue as director of the hospital's seven off-campus clinics until May 31, then leave that position as well and return to his private practice in Ventura.
Gaal declined to comment in detail until after his appointment is formally announced by the hospital next week. "All I can say is that I was asked to do this," Gaal said. "I don't know where [the idea] came from."
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Hill, who was deposed by the administration this year as elected head of the hospital's medical staff, said Reisman's departure was another step in the right direction and could eventually lead to a period of calm at the 102-year-old community hospital.
A Ventura physician, Hill had been performing surgeries exclusively at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard. But in recent weeks he has also returned to his post as the leader of Community Memorial's medical staff. He was reelected unanimously by voice vote last week, he said.
"I'm optimistic," Hill said. "Obviously, you can never count your chickens before they hatched, but I have a positive feeling about all this. Most of us involved in these issues feel that it's a real changing of the guard."
Gaal is a respected surgeon, Hill said.
Trustee Chairman Philip C. Drescher, the hospital spokesman, was out of town and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Reisman said he expected Drescher to announce Gaal's appointment at a meeting of the staff executive committee next week.
Reisman said he and Kenneth R. Strople, interim executive director, asked Gaal to serve after broaching the topic with Community Memorial's board of trustees.
"I think their reaction was to talk me out of it or for me to stay on longer," Reisman said. "But I stayed longer than I might have chosen to stay had the situation been different."
Reisman, part- or full-time medical director since 1993, said that he remained on the job because he did not want to leave during a period of crisis. "But with the resignation of Dr. Bakst, I felt it was a good opportunity to go back to my private practice."
Lawyers for the hospital and the medical staff have been meeting in an attempt to resolve the physicians' lawsuit.
Hill said physicians wanted to turn back the clock to early 2002 -- before hospital trustees unilaterally began to change physician bylaws, seized $250,000 in medical staff funds and imposed a code of conduct and conflict of interest policy opposed by many doctors.