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Judge issues final order in Avera lawsuit

September 26, 2012
By Deb Gau , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - A judge has issued a final order on a lawsuit filed against Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center earlier this year, on behalf of its medical staff. The order, filed Monday in Lyon County District Court by Judge Michelle Dietrich, rules on several issues related to the lawsuit, including a ruling that the Avera Marshall medical staff bylaws are not a contract between the hospital and medical staff.

The lawsuit was originally filed in January by Avera Marshall chief of staff Dr. Steven Meister and Dr. Jane Willett, on behalf of the hospital's medical staff. The suit alleged that Avera Marshall violated medical staff bylaws and prevented the chief of staff and the hospital's Medical Executive Committee from fulfilling their duties.

The judge's order filed this week included rulings on several aspects of the lawsuit, including the issue of whether or not the bylaws were a contract with medical staff. The order said the bylaws weren't a contract, for several reasons. The hospital already had a duty under Minnesota regulations to adopt staff bylaws, the order said, and treating the bylaws as a contract would go against Minnesota public policy. If the bylaws had the power of a contract, it would interfere with Avera Marshall's ability to make business and policy decisions on patient care, the order said.

A request for an injunction against Avera Marshall was denied.

Although the medical staff bylaws weren't a contract, the judge's order said, that didn't mean they were unenforceable. The order said Avera Marshall is required to follow the provisions of its adopted medical staff bylaws. The hospital adopted new bylaws earlier this year. The order also said Avera Marshall can change its medical staff bylaws without needing the approval of two-thirds of the medical staff, as long as it "substantially complies" with procedures in the bylaws.

Avera Marshall President and CEO Mary Maertens said Tuesday that Avera Marshall was pleased with the ruling.

"Judge Dietrich's ruling is a compelling and well-reasoned affirmation of the right of the hospital to manage itself," Maertens said. She said the ruling supported the need for the hospital board be able to make decisions and showed the hospital was not doing wrong. "We are pleased that the hospital and its staff's actions in support of maintaining its charitable mission have been vindicated."

Avera Marshall has followed its medical staff bylaws and intends to continue doing so, said David Crosby, attorney for Avera Marshall.

Willett and Meister said they respectfully disagreed with the ruling that the medical staff bylaws were not a contract but also felt "vindicated" by the ruling requiring the bylaws be followed.

"One of the most important things for us as members of the medical staff, is having meaningful input on patient care issues," Meister said. Upholding the bylaws could help protect the medical staff's ability to give that input, he said.

There is a 60-day period in which the ruling may be appealed. Kathy Kimmel, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday it was too early to say if an appeal was coming.



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