A Spokane attorney has asked Providence St. Mary Medical Center to participate in a town hall meeting to address community concerns about recent findings by the US Department of Justice.
William Gilbert, whose law firm filed a class action lawsuit representing dozens of neurosurgery clients from across the region and beyond, said those included in the mayoral invitation were Providence executives, representatives from the Washington State Attorney General’s office, Bob Ferguson, and the Walla Community of the Walla region.
Gilbert’s clients were allegedly injured at the hands of Dr. Jason Dreyer and Dr. Daniel Elskens, largely due to their neurosurgical practices in Walla Walla.
On June 10, Gilbert sent a letter with the reunion request and more to Providence officials. The move came after health system officials published a full-page announcement in the Sunday, June 5 Union-Bulletin in which they referred to the legal situation surrounding these neurosurgeons. The announcement encouraged any patients of the surgeons with questions about the care they were receiving to contact the hospital.
Providence eventually responded to Gilbert with a five-page letter that offered no response and ignored City Hall’s request, the attorney said.
In April, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington announced that its investigation found that the two former Walla Walla neurosurgeons injured their patients and committed insurance fraud while practicing at St. Mary’s.
Justice Department officials said the hospital was aware of the situation and was paying bonuses to surgeons for unnecessary and risky surgeries.
Following an investigation by U.S. attorney Vanessa Waldref, St. Mary agreed to pay $22.7 million, the largest health care settlement in eastern Washington history, and to meet multiple obligations in terms of quality of care and patient safety.
In addition, the hospital should bring in outside experts to review claims and clinical quality systems.
The DOJ settlement, however, only provides about $10 million for reimbursement of government health insurance claims. None of the $22.7 million is for individual patients who suffered from Dreyer’s and Elsken’s surgeries.
In a letter to Providence’s legal counsel, Gilbert said the health care system has an “undeniable” financial obligation to patients harmed by Elskens and Dreyer, which is also not addressed in the recent publicity.
The ad Providence posted in the newspaper — which came in the form of a letter from Reza Kaleel, chief executive of Providence Southeast Washington — projected inaccuracies, Gilbert said, and omitted how the hospital itself participated in the fraud.
The attorney said Providence, by misrepresenting the basis of the Justice Department’s lawsuit, soliciting direct communication from patients — leaving the court out of the loop — and acting as if those communications were part of ongoing medical care is inappropriate and a continued abuse of a position of trust with vulnerable patients.
“Such behavior must stop,” Gilbert wrote.
Kaleel said in his June 5 post that Providence conducted a “thorough internal investigation which led to the surgeons leaving the organization in 2018 and 2018, respectively.”
The April announcement from Waldref’s office was the first time Providence officials publicly admitted they were aware of concerns raised by their own staff, primarily Dr. David Yam, then head of the Department of Neurosurgery at St. Mary.
Instead of being fired and reported to authorities, however, Elskens and Dreyer were allowed to resign from the hospital. Both were hired elsewhere.
Dreyer went to the MultiCare Rockwood clinic in Spokane, where he was fired in 2021. Administrators then said it was due to restrictions placed on Dreyer’s license to practice by the US Department of Health. Washington State.
Elskens landed at Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky, Ohio in 2018.
On June 7, the Sandusky Register newspaper reported that Elskens was part of the lawsuit filed by Gilbert. A day later, the newspaper reported that Elskens was closing his practice. Firelands legal counsel Rob Moore told the newspaper that Elskens planned to move to Michigan for family reasons before the lawsuit was filed in May.
Providence’s full-page letter to the newspaper also, according to Gilbert, attempted to deter people from seeking counsel, and he demanded that the hospital cease and desist from this behavior.
“If your message is sincere and you really want to help these people and regain the trust of the community, then fix that.”
To achieve this, the lawyer also invited Providence to engage in a public conversation in Walla Walla.
Such an event, Gilbert said, would allow for a frank discussion of what happened and why, lay out the stages of recovery, and — regardless of what happens legally — reassure people that the hospital is here for the long haul.
The meeting could provide an open forum for questions and answers, he added, noting that he had sent a copy of his request to the Justice Department.
Robert Beatty-Walters, a Portland attorney also representing patients who were allegedly injured under Dreyer’s care, confirmed that in an order signed June 15, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice said Yam was allowed to testify. about his Dreyer-related complaints filed with the Providence administration in 2017 and 2018.
Court documents show Providence sought a protective order over Yam’s testimony, specifically the identity of anyone who served on a peer review or quality improvement board at any time, l identity and nature of any complaint about Dreyer that resulted in a peer review or quality improvement investigation at Providence, and any information gathered as a result of a peer review or a quality improvement process.
In her decision, Rice narrowed the scope of what Yam could be impeached for, but ruled that the former medical director of neurosurgery at Walla Walla could testify to the existence, location and time of the committees. peer review or quality improvement process, identify the nature of any complaints about Dreyer that have resulted in a review or investigation and indicate whether Dreyer’s privileges have ever been terminated, restricted or revoked and, in the yes, why, the court order shows.
Providence officials have continued to say they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
On May 26, state Health Department spokesman Frank Ameduri said no new investigations were being opened into Dreyer or Elskens.
Justice Department spokesman Richard Barker said Thursday, June 30, that his office could neither confirm nor deny being in conversation with Dreyer at this time.