Over 250 medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed against, Dr. Spyros Panos, Mid-Hudson Medical Group, parent of Saint Francis Hospital and Health Centers and Vassar Hospitals, and both hospitals. Dr. Spyros Panos, an ex-orthopedic surgeon, has been accused of opening patients surgically without performing an actual procedure, botching surgeries, doing unnecessary surgeries on healthy patients, and prolonging patients’ ailments solely for financial gain. One of Panos’s alleged fake surgeries resulted in the death of 76-year-old woman. Several lawsuits allege the hospitals failed to notice, limit, and question the high volume of patients Panos would see on any given office day or question the spike in his billing. He is said to have scheduled as many as 22 surgeries PER DAY (most surgeons only schedule 32 procedures a month, according to industry statistics). According to his surgical schedules at Vassar, it was not uncommon for Dr. Panos to be in nearly back-to-back surgeries over the course of 12-hour-long surgery days, often with two patients under anesthesia at the same time. Court records indicate that the alleged “fraudulent claims” resulted in $13 million paid to Mid-Hudson Medical for Panos’ surgeries and $3.5 million for Panos’ treatments during office visits. With this kind of money being paid to the hospital, is it really that surprising that they may have “looked the other way”?
A federal investigation dates back nearly a year ago, when subpoenas for Panos’ medical records were served on Mid-Hudson Medical Group, SaintFrancisHospital and HealthCenters, and VassarHospitals. Meanwhile, Mid-Hudson was working out a deal with Mount Kisco Medical Group that may have been an effort to evade liability. The transaction would have transferred Mid-Hudson’s assets to MountKisco, leaving Mid-Hudson as nothing more than a shell company that would eventually dissolve. Last November, Dr. Panos pleaded guilty to the fraudulent scheme; he agreed to forfeit $5 million in assets, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office ordered Mid-Hudson Medical Group to pay $5 million in a civil settlement. Mid-Hudson claims it was an “innocent owner,” having no involvement in, knowledge of, or participation in the fraudulent scheme, and the forfeiture “in no way constitutes or should be interpreted as an admission of liability or wrongdoing by any of the parties.” Every time Dr. Panos “alleged” performed surgery, the hospital got paid. How could they accept this flow of money and not know where it came from? Greed seems to have been the motivating factor here, Panos lined his pockets but the benefiting medical groups and hospitals were just as guilty, just as greedy. They certainly had no problem reaping the benefits from the money brought in by Panos surgeries.
The latest slap in the face to victims is that SaintFrancisHospital and HealthCenters has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, freezing its assets. This, of course, raises questions of when and how victims will ultimately be paid. The hospital administrators concealed, covered up, and hid the truth for years to avoid responsibility for their actions and to keep ill-gotten profits. Dr. Panos lied, cheated, and robbed patients of good health and Saint Francis covered it up. Now, the hospital is asking that the court unfreeze the medical malpractice lawsuits and allow them to be settled for insurance policy limits only (no out-of-pocket hospital assets). Why? Because it is losing money at a rate of roughly $3 million a month and the hospital wants to sell its assets to pay its debts. Some plaintiffs’ attorneys said they will agree to the hospital’s condition, while others want to wait and see if insurance is enough to cover damages. If plaintiffs agree to accept policy limits, this limited amount is all they will recover, regardless of their injuries; however, if the hospital succeeds in its bankruptcy proceedings, the plaintiffs are unlikely to obtain any compensation.
I presume that the insurance provider(s) has signed off on this deal; while Panos and administrator conduct is abominable, the carrier’s liability is capped and certain. Insurance companies like that. But the whole bankruptcy-insurance capped settlement scheme becomes the defendants’ way to bilk innocent victims, especially in cases like this where multiple cases arise from the same doctor’s negligence. If the plaintiff’s agree to Saint Francis’ request, they will, almost assuredly, get less than they deserve. In situations where the damages exceed insurance limits (or insurance limits are unreasonably low), with assets tied up in bankruptcy court for who knows how long, seriously injured former patients/victims are left with taking these limited damages or facing the real possibility of seeing nothing, their claims discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Those of you familiar with my writings know that I am a staunch defender of victims’ rights. I am, absolutely, opposed to all forms of restrictions on compensation which have commonly been called “tort reform”. With tort reform, innocent victims are stripped of their rights to just compensation by politicians who accede to the desires to greedy corporate types that contribute billions to their political campaigns. But this is even worse. Saint Francis will use bankruptcy to deny victims full recovery, pay its bills with the savings, and come out of bankruptcy smelling like a rose. The big losers in these situations, as always, are the individual victims who, because of injury, disability and under-compensation, become financially destitute and in need of government assistance. If personal responsibility matters to you and you support this kind of “bailout” for the wealthy (whether it is called “bankruptcy” or “tort reform”) you are on the wrong side of this issue. Hopefully, a fairer compromise will be reached and victims will be treated with dignity and respect. Hopefully the attorneys who represent them will negotiate the best possible result for them. I will be watching.
Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.