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Parker Griffith Huntsville Hospital Controversy


reappoint judge roy moore

Dr Parker Griffith Dismissed at Huntsville Hospital

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The former chief of medicine who initiated an examination into Huntsville Hospital's radiation oncology department 21 years ago stands behind his reasoning for asking outside experts to review treatment practices there.

That 1987 review either did or did not lead to retired radiation oncologist and current congressional candidate Parker Griffith resigning his privileges from the hospital - depending on which side you choose to take.

Indisputable is that the peer review report - which had remained under seal for more than two decades until being released by Griffith's Republican opponent, Wayne Parker, this week - is consuming the District 5 race less than six weeks from election day.

Griffith said the review, which accused him of under-dosing cancer patients to keep them under his care longer, was motivated by the hospital's desire to get rid of him because he had opened two competing cancer treatment centers in Huntsville.

Parker, who has not revealed who gave him the formerly secret document, maintains the report reveals the "lack of integrity and character" of his opponent. 'Pandora's box'

Dr. Bob Williams, an emergency room doctor at Woodland Hospital in Cullman, was a kidney specialist and chief of medicine at Huntsville Hospital in 1987. He was the one who asked the American College of Oncology to recommend someone to review the radiation oncology department where, Williams said, something seemed wrong.

According to Williams and documented in the report, numerous internal complaints had been lodged about the care Griffith was providing to his patients, and a committee of himself and six previous Huntsville Hospital chiefs of medicine were charged with determining if there really was a problem.

Some were saying Griffith was "warehousing" patients on the hospital's seventh floor, keeping them there much longer than other cancer doctors, Williams said. Williams said others complained that Griffith aggressively treated terminal patients instead of allowing them to go home to die in peace and comfort.

"This exacted enormous costs and caused unnecessary pain and suffering for people who were not going to get better," Williams said.

Dr. Luther Brady of Philadelphia, who Williams said is well respected in the field, came in for a chart review and conversation with the staff. The report that Brady wrote "was breathtaking."

"It was like opening Pandora's box," Williams said. "The issues were so much bigger than we could have ever imagined. ?He was routinely maximizing revenue at the detriment of the patient."

Williams provided what he called a "simplistic way" to look at what Brady found: Assume the American standard of care for a person diagnosed with cancer is 5,000 radiation units, or RADs. The established method of care would be to give 500 RADs in 10 sessions.

But Williams said Griffith would administer 250 RADs over 20 sessions. He could charge twice as much, but the patient didn't get the dosage that would shrink the tumor, Williams said.

"We already knew that he had sloppy records and that he wasn't making rounds on some of patients the way he was charging them, but we never dreamed that we'd find something so deliberately wrong," Williams said. "It wasn't what we expected at all."

The committee's next step was to ask a second reviewer to look at the radiation oncology department. This time, Doctor Carlos Perez of St. Louis analyzed the department, and his findings reiterated much of Brady's. Perez wrote in his report that a review of records of Griffith and Olive revealed that some patients received "inadequate" treatment.

"The rationale for the dose/time schedule used is not stated in any of the records and I personally don't understand the reasons behind it," Perez wrote.

With the outside oncologists finding fault with Griffith's care, Williams said the executive medical committee "got the ball rolling" on getting Griffith off the hospital staff. Page 3 of 4

When brought before the committee, Williams said Griffith was "arrogant" and said that he didn't detail all of his treatment in his records because he was "a busy man" and that he told, not wrote, many of his instructions to his staff.

Two days before the hospital board was to meet and vote on revoking his privileges, Griffith filed a $2.5 million lawsuit, stating that the hospital violated antitrust laws because it wouldn't grant privileges to doctors he was recruiting to work in his clinics, the Huntsville Cancer Treatment Center and Oncology Associates.

A judge dismissed the suit and ordered Griffith to pay the hospital's legal costs. U.S. District Judge E.B. Haltom Jr. said during a February 1989 hearing that it "seems to me very obvious that you filed this lawsuit because of the peer review process." Griffith said the judge wasn't "medically savvy" and didn't know how things worked in the competitive world of health care.

Williams said the hospital's pursuit of taking away Griffith's privileges "had nothing to do with competition."

"The executive committee wanted him gone because of what those reports said about how he treated cancer patients," Williams said.

Parker Griffith said he felt the information in the report was fair game because Griffith has campaigned on his medical experience and because, in a commercial, the Griffith campaign accused Parker of lying when he questioned the doctor's medical record.

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