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Physicians Group Settles With Community Health Over 2020 Walkout by Neurologists
gvw_edward_smith
By Edward Smith
Published 2 weeks ago on
June 10, 2024

Central California Faculty Medical Group agreed to pay Community Health System $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit after the group's neurologists walked off the job in September 2020. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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A physician’s group has agreed to pay Fresno’s largest hospital system $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit after neurologists walked out in 2020 — creating a situation that threatened the hospital’s Level I Trauma designation.

The Central California Faculty Medical Group — now Inspire Medical Group — agreed to the settlement only weeks before a scheduled jury trial.

Community Regional Medical Center is the only hospital in the Central Valley with the ability to treat dangerous head wounds and brain injuries. The September 2020 walkout lasted 13 days, according to case documents.

Community officials said the walkout — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating Creek Fire — forced the hospital to transfer critical neurological patients out of Fresno.

The now-settled lawsuit also included the region’s largest physicians’ group, SantĂ© Health System, with which the hospital still has a $2 million contract dispute.

Craig Wagoner, who is Community’s chief operating officer, said in a statement on Monday that he hopes the settlement will help repair the relationship between the hospital and the medical group.

“While the $1.2 million settlement CCFMG will pay does not fully address the disruption caused by the unprecedented neurosurgeon walkout, it does reinforce that business disputes should never impact patient care and the health of our community,” Wagoner said. “Our hope is that CCFMG will work with us to ensure that abrupt interruption of patient care never happens again.”

Settlement ‘Closes Chapter’ on Disagreement: CCFMG

In a statement, a spokesperson for CCFMG said since the organization began in 1979, the medical group has helped attract top physicians and specialists, providing a level of care difficult to find outside major metro areas.

Over the last five years, physicians with the medical group have treated almost 500,000 patients who came to emergency departments at Community Health System and performed more than 55,000 surgeries.

“Although CCFMG believes that its actions, at all times, were appropriate, it also believes providing the highest caliber physicians and staff best serves our community at this time,” the spokesperson said. “As such, we look forward to closing this chapter in our history in order to dedicate valuable time and resources to what matter to us most, caring for our patients and the people of the Central Valley.”

Walkout Comes After Split Between Santé and Community

Community’s relationship with SantĂ© soured after decades of working together. The lawsuit against CCFMG also named former SantĂ© CEO Scott Wells.

In court documents, Community accused Wells, CCFMG and its CEO, Joyce Fields-Keene, and another medical group, Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group, of colluding to threaten the hospital’s Level I status. Fields-Keene was Wells’ fiancĂ©e at the time.

The sudden walkout occurred a little more than two months after Community ended its membership with SantĂ©’s foundation.

Calls made by GV Wire to Santé to comment for this story were not returned.

Community had become the sole member of SantĂ©’s foundation board in 2016.

According to Community’s legal complaint, Wells suspected the split would cost SantĂ© millions of dollars in lost revenue.

With only a 32-hour notice before the walkout, Community did not have time to find replacement neurologists.

Before the settlement, a jury trial was scheduled for July 1.

$2 million Contract Dispute Still Undecided

Last Wednesday, Fresno County Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan denied motions for summary judgment made by attorneys for Santé and Community, saying more information was needed.

Community says it is owed $2 million in reimbursements from Santé for patients covered by the hospital.

A jury trial in that case is scheduled for July 8.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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