Augusta Health Faces $3 Million Lawsuit from Former Employee
Augusta Health is facing a $3 million lawsuit from a doctor who claims he was wrongly fired last year for putting the needs of patients over profits. However, after a courting ruling Monday the public may never know how the case is resolved.
Dr. David Herring practiced internal medicine for Augusta Health in Fishersville until he received his termination letter just over a year ago. He claims the hospital fired him illegally, then obstructed his ability to serve patients in private practice.
An Albemarle County judge ruled that the lawsuit between Herring and Augusta Health will be decided not by a jury in open court but through binding arbitration, and the results could remain confidential.
"Sometimes what'll happen is the arbitrator will suggest what his ruling or her ruling is going to be and then the parties will take the hint, and enter into a private, confidential settlement," said legal analyst Lloyd Snook.
Herring, who now operates a private practice just outside of Waynesboro, sued Augusta Health for wrongful termination and conspiracy. He claims his employer demanded he refer all patients to specialists within the Augusta Medical Group for the purpose of making more money.
Herring cites a July 2011 email from Augusta Medical Group Executive Director Courtenay Beebe stating, "As long as you are cashing my check, I expect you will be supportive of the group." Herring says the hospital ended his contract when he refused to break the law.
"There's a Virginia statute that says, I don't care what your agreement says, the doctor has to be able to exercise his own professional judgment," said Snook.
The contract does in fact say that, so the issue is whether or not they they fired him for exercising his own professional judgment.
In a written statement, Augusta Health denies Herring's allegations and says it "will continue to place the best interests of all patients as its No. 1 priority."
Herring is asking for $3.35 million in damages. The case will move to an arbitrator from the American Health Lawyers Association, and a final decision could be months away.
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