HYANNIS — Former Cape Cod Hospital cardiologist Richard Zelman has refiled his lawsuit against the hospital, its parent company Cape Cod Healthcare, and its CEO Michael Lauf in a different court.
Zelman’s lawsuit, originally filed on Dec. 6 in Barnstable Superior Court, alleges he was fired for blowing the whistle on hospital practices he saw as prioritizing profit over patient care. He filed a voluntary notice to dismiss without prejudice on Jan. 25, before refiling the suit in Suffolk Superior Court on Friday.
“As long as Cape Cod Hospital continues to place cardiac patients in harm’s way, I cannot and will not be silenced,” said Zelman in a statement to the Times on Friday.
On Tuesday, Lauf vehemently denied the allegations in an interview with the Times, saying he and the hospital look forward to their day in court. He said the lawyer representing Cape Cod Healthcare had expected Zelman to refile his lawsuit.
After Zelman filed the first complaint, his privileges to perform medical procedures Cape Cod Hospital as part of his private practice were suspended on Dec. 21. In a letter notifying him about the suspension, the Medical Executive Committee accused Zelman of engaging in “bullying behavior”, according to the refiled lawsuit, but did not cite examples.
Zelman lawsuit contains new allegations against CCH, Lauf
Without privileges, Zelman “was effectively out of business,” because much of his work can only be performed in the hospital, according to the lawsuit.
“The only explanation for why the defendants revoked Dr. Zelman’s privileges is that they sought to retaliate against him, drive him out of business, discredit him in response to his repeated whistleblowing activity, and prevent him from referring patients to facilities in Boston where the patients would receive better care (and not contribute to defendants’ income),” the refiled lawsuit reads.
Then, on Jan. 26, Lauf sent a letter to all Cape Cod Healthcare physicians, according to the new lawsuit. While it did not specifically name Zelman, it was clearly issued in response to Zelman’s objections about hospital care and characterized those concerns as “inflammatory and baseless,” according to the lawsuit.
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“The letter, therefore, asserted, as a fact, that Dr. Zelman was a liar and discounted the multiple unnecessary and avoidable patient deaths and Dr. Zelman’s concerns over the same. Doing so served no other purpose than to discredit Dr. Zelman to his peers,” the lawsuit reads.
The newly refiled lawsuit also claims $20,000 was deducted from Zelman’s bonus for fiscal 2022 and that he lost access to an electronic medical records system that stores information on thousands of his patients. Eventually, he was granted “very limited access that does not provide Dr. Zelman with all the information he needs, limits the number of patient records he can access, and still seems to prohibit him from receiving consult requests.”
Zelman’s previous claims against Cape Cod Healthcare maintained
The suit maintains allegations that in 2019 Lauf wanted to limit the use of a medical device to patients whose insurance reimbursed the hospital at higher rates than Medicare and Medicaid and that Zelman faced retaliation for reporting “grievously dangerous” care by the hospital’s cardiac surgeons — employed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital — including what the lawsuit terms “sham investigations.”
The hospital no longer has a contract with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which has partnered with Cape Cod Hospital’s open-heart program since its inception in 2002. The hospital has been affiliated with Beth Israel Lahey Health since 2022.
Cape Cod Healthcare, based in Hyannis, operates two acute care hospitals, Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, along with a homecare and hospice agency, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility, an assisted living facility and a number of health programs. The nonprofit employs 450 physicians, according to its website.
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Zelman, 64, is an interventional cardiologist who has been affiliated with Cape Cod Hospital since 1990. He was hired full time in 2006 and became the medical director of the hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute in 2018. He says he was terminated on Sept. 30.
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