Dr. David Head sues NSHC over contract termination
The former medical director and chief of staff at Nome’s Norton Sound Regional Hospital has taken into court personnel issues that resulted in his demotion and firing after 29 years in top positions.
David Head, M.D. filed claims on March 19 in Alaska Second District Superior Court seeking damages for improper termination and economic loss, emotional distress and damage to his professional reputation.
In addition to NSHC, the suit names as defendants Jacob Ivanoff, former president of the hospital board of directors and executive board, and Chief Executive Officer Angie Gorn.
Head is demanding a jury trial on all issues, seeking compensation to meet damages he says will be proven in court.
The case has been assigned to Judge Romano DiBenedetto.
Joe P. Josephson, attorney with Josephson Law Offices L.L.C. of Anchorage has been retained by Head.
The defendants have 20 days within which to answer the claims in court, otherwise a default judgment may be entered against any or all of the three for the relief demanded in the complaint. As of Tuesday morning, the defendants had not been served with copies of the complaint and no response was available. The following is a summation of Head’s claims.
Head, who has lived in Nome for almost three decades, formerly held the chairmanship of the Alaska State Medical Board. NSHC is a tribally owned not-for-profit organization, which has its primary facility in Nome.
Head began working for NSHC in 1988. His most recent contract was to expire on April 30, 2018. However, NSHC and Gorn terminated the contract in early February. Head’s termination came concomitantly with allegations of wrong-doing on the part of another employee, Dr. Karen O’Neill, who has been exonerated and has a clear Alaska medical license with no corrective actions.
O’Neill had been employed by NSHC most of the past 40 years and certified by the Alaska State Medical Board in Internal Medicine, Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine. In 2016, O’Neill had allegedly been at fault by having allowed certain prescriptions for controlled substances to have been forged and circulated.
In winter of 2017, according to Head’s deposition, the NSHC Board of Directors, led by Jacob Ivanoff and CEO Gorn, chastised Head for having taken what the defendants alleged had been a “less than aggressive approach [which]ultimately aligned with Dr. Karen O’Neill, who had been suspended by the Board for allegedly allowed certain prescriptions of controlled substances to have been forged, and then circulated in Anchorage.”
This chastisement went against the Board’s Medical Staff Bylaws, according to Head, which caused him to inform the Board that it could not suspend a doctor’s privileges without consultation with the medical staff.
Indeed, NSHC Medical Staff Bylaws provide that medical staff “is responsible for carrying out delegated peer review and quality assessment functions.”
The policy further provides that if “reliable information indicates” that that a member of the NSHC medical staff “may have exhibited acts, demeanor, or conduct reasonably likely to be detrimental to patient safety or to the delivery of quality patient care (or) unethical, unprofessional or illegal (or) contrary to Medical Staff Bylaws, Rules And Regulations or Medical Staff and Hospital or NSHC administrative policy,” then Chief of Staff shall promptly notify the Vice President —Hospital Services in writing of all requests for corrective action regarding a medical staff member and keep the Vice President—Hospital Services fully informed of all action taken in correction therewith.”
Not withstanding these quoted provisions of NSHC policy and bylaws, the Board suspended O’Neill’s privileges. Therefore, in the suspension, the Board went against Medical Staff Bylaws, according to Head, and went against advice from Head, the NSHC in-house counsel and against advice from counsel employed by the private law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, DWT for short, according to Head.
Additionally, the complaint says that Ivanoff and Gorn unfairly chastise Head for “aligning with O’Neill rather than follow the intentions of NSHC Board and administration,” complaining that “this resulted in rallying behavior of medical staff and a seemingly purposeful misalignment with the [NSHC administration.]”
The claim by Head goes on to say that a NSHC “Performance Improvement Notice” had gone into his file, accusing him of misconduct, which Gorn said would remain in his file and could not be removed.
The Nome Nugget has reported that the Alaska State Medical Board has declined to penalize O’Neill and has exonerated her from assertions of either deliberate misconduct or professional negligence.
NSHC terminated his contract with a buy-out of $97,450.16, according to Head, although his contract was not due to expire until April 30, according to the court document. NSHC further denied Head’s use of medical facilities and equipment at the NSHC’s hospital in Nome, which meant it would be impossible for him to work as a medical doctor in Nome to mitigate loss from termination of his employment.
First claim for relief
By refusal to re-employ Head, the suit claims, and by issuing press releases defaming his reputation, all and each of NSHC, Gorn and Ivanoff, have caused Head to suffer economic loss because of injury to his professional reputation, the quantum of which, as it continues, will be proved at trial.
Second claim for relief
Each and every allegation, including elimination of Head as a physician at NSHC hospital, and declining to renew his employment as chief of medical staff and defaming his character and competency, NSHC, Ivanoff and Gorn have caused Head to suffer emotional distress, the claim continues.
Third claim for relief
The suit says that actions of NSHC, Gorn and Ivanoff constitute a breach of a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. By failing to extend Head’s contract, he says, upon false grounds that Head had not been sufficiently deferential to the individual defendants and the NSHC Board of Directors, and by falsely stating insinuating by express words and by implication, that Head was aligned with a doctor who had allegedly acted improperly, and by ousting him from its hospital as a physician, NSHC, Gorn and Ivanoff breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing which inures in every contract of employment entered into in Alaska, according to the deposition.
Head asks the Superior Court to hear his complaint and a jury summoned to decide the matter, adjudicate his claims and award him money judgment against the defendants, jointly and separately, under each cause of action stated, as well as costs and attorney fees that Head may incur.