The number of doctors in West Virginia has
increased yearly, contrary to reports by the state Medical
Association that doctors are fleeing the state in reaction to
medical malpractice costs.
"A crisis is looming. West Virginia is losing her doctors," is
the rallying cry by Medical Association doctors.
Between 1990 and 2000 the state saw a 14.3 percent increase in its
the same period grew at only 0.7 percent.
Dr. John Holloway, president of the Medical Association, points to
colleagues in Wheeling as examples of doctors leaving the state.
One of those doctors is neurosurgeon Dr. Fred Payne, who stopped
operating in May. He said the high cost of medical malpractice insurance
forced him out of business.
"The premiums just got too high - it was killing me. I was always
are crawling under rocks looking for relief."
In the past eight years Payne has accumulated more medical malpractice
lawsuits than almost any other doctor in the state. An examination of
insurance and court records shows Payne, with 10 lawsuits, is tied for
third place with another doctor.
The 10 patients who sued Payne for negligence cited in court documents
harm ranging from extreme pain to permanent disablement. The Gazette
obtained this information from medical malpractice reports filed with the
Two other Wheeling neurosurgeons recently left town or retired, Payne
Payne's former colleague, Dr. Paravesh Asli, ranks close behind Payne
with nine lawsuits in seven years for negligence. Asli retired in 1998.
Insurance companies paid out-of-court settlements to patients in all
but one of the lawsuits against Payne and Asli.
A third Wheeling neurosurgeon, Christopher Marquart, packed up and
moved to Michigan last fall, Payne said. This was three months after
patient Patricia Cameron sued him for negligence.
In court documents, Marquart admitted drilling into the wrong side of
Cameron's head during an operation. It was his third lawsuit, including
one in which a jury ruled against him and ordered him to pay $1.8 million
to a patient after he performed surgery that caused multiple cerebral
aneurysms and cardiac arrest.
Former Medical Association president Phil Stevens points to another
Wheeling doctor, Michael Lawson, as an example of doctors hopping
across borders to avoid being sued. But Lawson, a gynecologist, says he
moved his practice across the Ohio River to beat the 2 percent provider
tax West Virginia imposes on doctors' incomes.
Lawson lives in Wheeling and treats patients at Wheeling hospitals, but
he has set up an office in St. Clairsville, Ohio, where patients' visits
are recorded. Stevens said he didn't know how many other doctors
use the same tactic.
Charleston lawyer Richard Lindsay says the people of West Virginia are
better off without those doctors who leave because of malpractice.
"No one has been able to tell me the name of one doctor who has left
the state because of the cost of malpractice premiums," Lindsay said. "I
would bet the real reason that doctor has left is because he has been sued
a lot - and for good reason.
"If he has left the state because he is a bad doctor it means our
Lindsay says the Medical Association is employing scare tactics in
claiming that West Virginia is losing its doctors.
"They're using medical malpractice as the 'boogey man' - it's the worst
type of lie," he said. "If you look at the reasons why doctors
leave, lots of reasons come into play.
"Sometimes, it has to do with the deals hospitals like CAMC cut with
them." Lindsay said he has heard that CAMC has a reputation for
"low-balling" physicians during salary negotiations.
Dr. Richard Harris, a CAMC primary care physician specializing in
geriatric medicine, knows colleagues who retired early and left the state
- but not because of medical malpractice. "I know a few who did so well in
the stock market they retired to Florida," he said.