Doctor Gregory Sherr, a distinguished neurosurgeon represented by Schaefer Halleen, LLC, has brought suit in Federal District Court today against HeathEast Care System, CentraCare Health, and six physicians affiliated with these health care providers. The Complaint alleges ten legal claims, all arising from what Dr. Sherr and his lead counsel, Lawrence P. Schaefer at Schaefer Halleen, allege was a “pattern of anti-competitive, tortious and otherwise illegal conduct.”
Dr. Sherr was the Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Saint Cloud Hospital from 2012 until he resigned in early 2015 to join the Midwest Spine and Brain Institute, an independent cranial neurosurgery practice. MSBI and Dr. Sherr then opened a neurosurgery clinic within blocks of St. Cloud Hospital, which is wholly owned by CentraCare. Dr. Sherr also secured privileges to practice at a number of HealthEast hospitals.
Dr. Sherr had developed a significant patient base and stellar reputation, which posed a competitive threat to the in-house neurosurgeons at HealthEast and CentraCare. Instead of competing with Dr. Sherr and MSBI in a manner which would benefit all neurosurgery patients, the Complaint alleges that these neurosurgeons, many of whom had previously worked together at United Hospital, colluded to have baseless complaints brought against Dr. Sherr through the HealthEast “Peer Review” process. These complaints involved the care Dr. Sherr had provided to eight patients who developed common post-operative infections, but experienced good outcomes in difficult surgical procedures.
The initial HealthEast committee which reviewed these complaints was chaired by a direct competitor of Dr. Sherr’s, Dr. Margaret Wallenfriedman, who convinced her colleagues on October 20, 2015, to summarily suspend Dr. Sherr’s surgical privileges at HealthEast, which violated HealthEast’s own Bylaws. According to these Bylaws, the drastic step of a summary suspension can only be taken when a physician’s care poses a direct and immediate threat to the safety and health of patients.
The Complaint further alleges that in addition to imposing this baseless summary suspension, the CentraCare and HealthEast in-house neurosurgeons then freely communicated about Dr. Sherr’s suspension, amongst themselves and to the very tight-knit neurosurgery community. According to the Complaint, this represents a flagrant violation of federal and state laws mandating that this type of information be maintained in the strictest confidence.
Although internal appeals of suspension are difficult and rarely successful, Dr. Sherr and his counsel successfully appealed the summary suspension and secured its reversal through the mandated HealthEast Peer Review appeal process on February 4, 2016. By then, however, his Minnesota reputation and career had been devastated, according to the Complaint. The widespread breach of confidentiality destroyed Dr. Sherr and MSBI’s ability maintain lucrative referral sources, leading Dr. Sherr to have no choice but to resign his MSBI employment and ultimately move to Florida to continue to provide expert neurosurgical care. He began his Florida practice in July 2016.
Dr. Sherr completed his neurosurgery fellowship and residency at the University of Minnesota in 2010, and had every intention of staying in Minnesota throughout his career to provide expert and innovative neurosurgery care. “My intent was to develop, with MSBI’s support, a state-of-the art neurosurgery approach to treating difficult cranial and spine cases. These patients are in life-threatening and excruciatingly painful conditions, and there are precious few experts who have the background and expertise to provide state-of-the art care. To have this dream destroyed, and to deprive Minnesota citizens of this resource, simply because I was a competitive threat in-house neurosurgeons, is a tragedy for complex medical care in this state,” according to Dr. Sherr.
“This case will be groundbreaking, as we intend to expose anti-competitive collusion between neurosurgeons at two of the largest health care providers in the state,” claims Dr. Sherr’s lead counsel Lawrence Schaefer. “Between them, HealthEast and CentraCare run ten hospitals and employ over 1,200 physicians. Despite their size and influence, these institutions are not above the law, and cannot conspire to destroy the local reputation and career of a brilliant neurosurgeon, just because he and MSBI were perceived as a competitive threat.” Concludes Schaefer: “We expect this litigation to emphasize the need to maintain strict confidentiality and remove all anti-competitive malice in an appropriate medical peer review process. This will ultimately strengthen medical care throughout the state and protect physicians in independent clinics.”