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Doctor settles $2M suit against practice

An obstetrician/gynecologist has settled a $2 million lawsuit against the Cumberland medical practice that fired her, allegedly in retaliation for her complaints that the office manager was referring most patients to her physician-husband, the facility’s medical director.

Tri-State Community Health Center Inc. had countered that its 2008 firing of Fauzia Baqai was justified because she had put patients at risk by refusing to see them if they had been referred to the other doctor, Dale Wolford.

Both Baqai and Tri-State denied the allegations in agreeing to the settlement. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Neither Baqai’s nor Tri-State’s attorney returned telephone messages seeking comment on the case.

Baqai was represented by Nicholas J. Monteleone, of Hidey, Coyle & Monteleone in Cumberland. John S. Vander Woude, of Eccleston and Wolf PC in Hanover, represented Tri-State.

Under Baqai’s contract with Tri-State, her salary was tied to the number of patients she treated, a payment allocation referred to as “relative value units.” In her breach-of-contract lawsuit, Baqai claimed Tri-State also committed fraud by telling her that patients would be distributed evenly among Tri-State’s doctors.

The office manager, Jacque Wolford, referred “most, if not all,” patients to her husband with the knowledge and consent of Tri-State’s board of directors and executive director, Baqai claimed in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The wife-and-husband operation controlled “the flow of patients … so as to financially benefit Dr. Wolford and to artificially decrease the RVU’s attributed to Dr. Baqai and other Tri-State physician-employees,” Monteleone, Baqai’s attorney, stated in the complaint.

Baqai complained to Wolford and Executive Director Sheila DeShong, but they refused to address the matter and permitted the Wolford-to-Wolford assignments to continue, Monteleone wrote. The issue was also brought to the attention of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which held an Oct. 29, 2008, meeting at the facility, but neither Wolford nor DeShong was there, the attorney added.

On Oct. 31, 2008, Jacque Wolford sent a letter to DeShong stating that Baqai had threatened to stop treating Wolford’s patients when she was the doctor on call. Baqai made the threat after having treated a Wolford patient while on call, the letter added.

The next morning, Baqai told Jacque Wolford she was “not hired to do Dr. Wolford’s scutt work” and was “unwilling to see any established Dr. Wolford patient even if the patient were lying on the floor bleeding … [or] in a bed in need of medical attention,” Jacque stated in court papers.

DeShong investigated the alleged conversation and asked Baqai to explain. Baqai, in a Nov. 5, 2008, email to DeShong, said the Wolfords were being “unprofessional” and that Jacque Wolford “manipulated the system” to benefit her husband, according to court papers.

Baqai denied saying she would refuse to treat patients, adding that she “always covered the practice for anyone” and would “always cover emergencies at any time.”

On Nov. 13, 2008, Tri-State fired Baqai, saying she had violated contract provisions by refusing to see Wolford’s patients and making statements indicating she might “compromise patient health and safety,” according to court papers.

Baqai, who had since moved to North Carolina, sued Tri-State in federal court on Aug. 13, 2009, alleging breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation with regard to the practice’s failure to comply with its contractual obligation to distribute patients evenly among the doctors. The lawsuit sought $1 million each in compensatory and punitive damages.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey issued the settlement order Feb. 23.

The U.S. District Court had jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim based on the diversity of citizenship between the North Carolina plaintiff and the Maryland defendant and because the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.

FAUZIA BAQAI V. TRI-STATE COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

SKG-09-2135

Judge:

Susan K. Gauvey

Outcome:

Settlement

Dates:

Event: Nov. 13, 2008

Suit filed: Aug. 13, 2009

Order: Feb. 23, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Nicholas J. Monteleone of Hidey, Coyle & Monteleone in Cumberland.

Defendant’s Attorney:

John S. Vander Woude of Eccleston and Wolf PC in Hanover.

Counts:

Breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.