U. of Iowa Official Ordered to Pay Indian American for Error

The University of Iowa College of Medicine.

The University of Iowa College of Medicine.

By Indiawest

A senior University of Iowa medical official has been ordered to pay $183,000 for unfairly revoking the clinical privileges of Ravi Sood, a subordinate doctor, and taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

A jury ruled in May that director of nuclear medicine Michael Graham violated Sood’s constitutional right to due process when he had university hospital staff rescind Sood’s ability to provide patient care in 2008 without notice or a hearing. Jurors awarded $37,000 in damages to Sood, who said the move destroyed his career in nuclear medicine.

Judge Carl Baker earlier this month ordered Graham to pay an additional $146,000 to cover Sood’s attorney’s fees and legal expenses. Baker rejected Graham’s request for a new trial, saying the evidence supports the conclusion that Graham ignored hospital rules and knowingly violated Sood’s rights.

Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which is defending Graham, said the state is required to defend and indemnify any employee acting within the scope of their employment, meaning taxpayers will have to cover any judgment. He said Graham is considering an appeal, which has to be filed by next month.

Graham, a radiology professor at the university since 1999, is a prominent figure in the field of nuclear medicine. With an annual salary of $316,000, he was once president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and is a founder of the Nuclear Medicine Program Directors Association. He did not return a message seeking comment.

The university hired Sood in 2008 to help run Graham’s nuclear medicine clinic. Graham said medical residents complained that Sood’s knowledge and work were inadequate and that Graham questioned whether Sood’s skills were suitable for the job.

Instead of firing the Indian American physician, Graham demoted Sood to a part-time fellow in October 2008 and notified him that his contract would not be renewed when it expired in July 2009.

At Graham’s request, hospital staff also stripped Sood of his clinical privileges without following bylaws that require a review committee to conduct an investigation and make a recommendation.

After Sood protested and administrators realized the error, the hospital worked to reinstate Sood’s privileges in the following weeks. Graham said he had only intended to revoke Sood’s billing privileges and that the removal of his clinical privileges was a bureaucratic error.

Sood’s attorneys said Graham’s action was deliberate and derailed the career of Sood, who finished his year at Iowa with a satisfactory performance and co-authored papers with Graham.

But when he was in line for a job at a federal Veterans Administration hospital in Louisiana the next year, administrators rejected his candidacy after learning about the gap in his clinical privileges. Medical experts say the loss of privileges is a red flag for employers because it typically denotes a serious patient safety problem, which was not the case with Sood.

Sood said he could not get other jobs in nuclear medicine and now works as a doctor at a federal prison in New Jersey. Graham’s lawyers argued that Sood was simply not a good candidate and that the gap in his privileges did not cause the rejections.

Jurors agreed that Graham violated Sood’s right to due process and that his conduct damaged Sood. But they rejected Sood’s request for $1.8 million in damages, awarding $37,000 instead, or about the amount of wages he lost due to his demotion at the university.

The $146,000 in legal costs awarded to Sood earlier this month was about half of what his attorneys had sought.

The case underscores the need to follow fair procedures “when something as important as clinical privileges are at stake,’ one of Sood’s attorneys, Chad Swanson, said
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