My American Dream Turned into a Nightmare
By ron virmani
MY AMERICAN DREAM TURNED INTO A NIGHTMARE
Ron A. Virmani, M.D.
When I grew up in India, I heard very nice things about America. I learned that it was a wonderful land full of good people. It was a country of fairness and justice for all. Where personal merit and hard work were rewarded with good life.
I was young and idealistic. Even though I had no family here, this wonderful concept lured me to America in 1976. I put myself through New Jersey Medical School in Newark. I lived off my meager savings, sold encyclopedias, stocked library shelves and worked as a busboy at times. After I received my M.D. degree, I decided to help bring new life into the world. In 1989, I finished my ob-gyn residency from Temple University hospital in Philadelphia in good standing.
I got married and came down to Charlotte in 1990, started practicing at Presbyterian Hospital. I was the first ob-gyn of Indian origin to practice in Charlotte. I delivered hundreds of babies and performed hundreds of surgeries. All went well. I was never told I did anything wrong.
On December 1, 1994, an unexpected injury occurred during a laparoscopic surgical procedure on a lady. I recognized this promptly and repaired it with help from general and vascular surgeons. She went home. Such incidents happen sometimes. My insurance company determined that I met the standard of care but proceeded to settle the case for 300K citing “business reasons”.
But the hospital used the incident to go on a fishing expedition of review of my old patient charts. These charts had already gone through the quality assurance process and been filed away without any problems being noted. Dr. James Hardy, no more experienced than I, conducted this sham “peer review”, shrouded in utter secrecy.
On September 1, 1995, Mr. Paul Betzold, the CEO of the hospital and Dr. Ronald Brown, head of ob-gyn department, dropped a bomb on me.
They told me that the hospital was summarily suspending me as of 4 PM that day because of a review of my 102 patient charts out of which 24 were found to be “problematic”. I was stunned by this revelation. I had assumed that the hospital would give me a chance to defend and explain anything that they considered “problematic”. This is how things are done in any hospital, it is also in the by-laws. There truly existed no reason for suspension.
But Mr. Betzold said, “We do not have to tell you what charts are problematic or what the problems are.”
Suspension from the hospital is a kiss of death for any physician. I sought legal help. It took two months of wrangling before the hospital would even tell me what “problems” they had with my 24 charts. Turned out that the problems were everyday things that happen to all ob-gyn’s. Several independent physicians reviewed my charts and said the charts met the standard of care.
Over the years, it became clear to me that I was a victim of egregious discrimination. Doctors, under the control of white power elite of administration, were eager to find faults where there was none. Medical Board of North Carolina conducted its own investigation and found my charts to be within the standard of care. They said they would help me with my career but the help never came.
According to a letter circulated by Dr. Jared Schwartz in October 1998 among the hospital’s medical staff, I was the first physician to be suspended in 20 years at Presbyterian hospital! I looked around to see if other physicians at the hospital had their share of adverse events. I found dozens of cases.
I found out that Presbyterian hospital had no problem giving privileges to
Dr. Kenneth Baker, who had had two laparoscopic deaths in another hospital.
Dr. Tidwell had performed a laparoscopy on a patient who died from overwhelming sepsis six days later.
Dr. Lewis failed to manage fetal distress during labor in 1992, the lawsuit settled for $5 million dollars.
Dr. Alice Teague delayed performing a cesarean section. The baby was born with birth asphyxia and skull fracture. The jury awarded Plaintiff $23.2 million. The hospital settled separately for $6 million dollars.
These cases are only the tip of the iceberg of adverse events involving Presbyterian physicians. No disciplinary action whatsoever, let alone suspension, was taken against these physicians by the hospital. Some were slid out the backdoor to practice elsewhere with no black mark on their record. Some kept practicing at Presbyterian hospital. Some of those actually sat in my judgment. This must justify the Presbyterian motto of “Remarkable people – remarkable medicine”!
I have spent eleven exhausting years and a million dollars in the courts seeking justice. I have lived one hell of a life. The bright lawyers of the hospital were able to persuade the federal judges to throw out my discrimination case not because of lack of merit but because of their interpretation of technical grounds. I remember the haunting advice of my professor in Philadelphia not to go to the South.
The hospital has used its enormous resources and power to squash me like a gnat. They have done so not because of the quality of my care but because of where I came from. They are thriving while I am starving. I hope these people sleep well at night knowing that they have destroyed the professional and personal life of a young physician beyond repair because of his national origin.
I am proud to be a citizen of the United States. But both the medical and legal system in this country have failed me. I do not deliver pretty babies any more. My American dream has turned into a nightmare!
© ron virmani