Hospital shocked to learn of lawsuit for contract physician

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

An emergency room doctor with a multi-million dollar lawsuit hanging over his head worked briefly at Roosevelt General Hospital, administrator James D’Agostino said on Monday.

Dr. Theodore Collins worked “a couple of shifts” in RGH’s ER as a contract physician until the administration became aware of the lawsuit, D’Agostino said.

“He’s on hold now,” D’Agostino said.

According to an Associated Press story, a district court jury in Roswell earlier this month awarded the family of Walter Grassie $21.9 million in a medical negligence lawsuit against the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, an administrator at the hospital, and Collins. AP reported Collins was an emergency room physician at ENMMC in August of 2005 when Grassie died in the ER. Grassie, 78, was taken to the hospital complaining of chest pains.

D’Agostino said the Portales hospital was matched with Collins through a search agency. After receiving his name D’Agostino said Collins’ credentials were verified through two national databases, the National Practitioner’s Data Bank and the America Medical Association Clearinghouse. Both searches came back with the proper certifications to work in the ER, said D’Agostino.

D’Agostino said he was “shocked” when he learned about Collins’ legal issues. “I get the Albuquerque Journal at home and I first learned about it there. I’m not judging him (on the case) … but there’s no way he’s going to work here,” D’Agostino said.

Efforts to contact Collins on Monday were not successful. No telephone listings could be found for him in Portales or Roswell.
D’Agostino said Collins had been granted temporary privileges at RGH and was under review when the lawsuit came to light. He could not recall the exact dates Collins worked at RGH, but said it was recent.

The AP story on the jury’s findings was released July 17. At that time ENMMC spokeswoman Patti Bristol said hospital officials were disappointed with the verdict and still reviewing their legal options. Attempts to contact her late Monday were unsuccessful.
The jury found the hospital negligent in hiring Collins, who had been removed earlier as director of Ruidoso’s Guadalupe Medical Center emergency room. Jurors said Collins was unqualified to work in an emergency room and that the hospital would have known that if it had inquired, AP reported.

The family contended Grassie could have been stabilized so he could be sent to a trauma center in Albuquerque or Lubbock. They said that option was never provided.

The jury ordered hospital Chief Executive Officer Richard Robinson and Collins each to pay $10 million and the hospital to pay $1.9 million plus hospital expenses.

“The issues surrounding this case are highly complex and subjective,” Bristol said last week. “We believe that further review of the facts is merited and could impact the original judgement.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.