Last Sunday, The Republic reported that two doctors are allegedly responsible for nearly 80 malpractice claims filed against a New Mexico hospital. The hospital settled the claims for over $33 million.
According to The Republic, Drs. Christian Schlicht and Frank Bryant were the only doctors who performed spinal surgeries at the hospital, but only one of them had the credentials to do so. Dr, Bryant is an orthopedic surgeon; Dr, Schlicht is a German-born anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who used fraudulent credentials to not only operate on patients but to inject them with Plexiglas-like cement.
Surgeons use the cement to treat spinal cord fractures, according to Albuquerque Journal reporter Colleen Heild. But Schlicht reportedly heated the cement and injected it into disk spaces. Patients’ malpractice lawsuits claim that it “seeped elsewhere in the spine or broke off into pieces after hardening.” Those patients now suffer pain, partial paralysis or bladder and bowel problems.
Worse, Albuquerque Journal reported that four patients have died since filing the lawsuit. An expert believes that one of those four patients may have died due to a severe complication from the cement injection.
An O.R. nurse allegedly reported Schlicht to a supervisor but was told “to leave things the way they are.” It’s apparent that the hospital initially protected Schlicht. As Heild writes, “[d]espite the red flags, the hospital allowed him to perform the money-making surgical procedures at a pace that led to the need for a second set of instruments because the first was worn out.” When an insurance company refused to pay for treatment and questioned the doctor’s qualifications, the hospital threatened legal action against the insurer.
Bryant said in depositions that he was misled by Schlicht’s papers – written in German – touting how well the treatment worked.
“I believed him,” he said. “I mean, he sounded pretty credible.”
While Schlicht and Bryant were the face of this lawsuit, Quorum Health Resources LLC, a national firm that manages over 150 hospitals throughout the country, was reportedly the primary focus of the litigation. QHR was accused of negligence both in hiring Dr. Schlicht and in supervising Schlicht and Bryant. Of the $33 million settlement, QHR and an insurance company will pay nearly $13.5 million.
Schlicht is in Japan, serving as a senior flight surgeon at a U.S. Air Force base. Bryant closed his practice in February 2011 but did not lose his medical license. His lawyer said he’s about to leave the state and practice elsewhere. He will also pay a settlement of $11.5 million while the hospital pays the remaining $7.5 million over the next 3 years, according to Albuquerque Journal.