Mena Regional Target of Lawsuit From Its Former Chief of Surgery

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

A Mena general surgeon is suing his former hospital after his heart surgery in 2011 set off a chain reaction that ended with him being fired over accusations that he abused prescription drugs.

Our story starts with Dr. Michael J. Mercer, who was hired by Mena Regional Health System at the end of 2008 as chief of surgery and physician.

The association apparently went fine until 2011, when he was diagnosed with heart disease and required emergency bypass surgery.

Mercer told his supervisors to keep his procedure under wraps, according to his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Smith.

But news about the surgery traveled fast, thanks to a hospital official sending out two email blasts to about 60 people, the lawsuit said. An item about Mercer’s condition even reached the local paper.

After returning to work in July 2011, Mercer complained to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Mena Regional violated his right to have his medical information kept confidential, the lawsuit said.

Two days after Mena Regional received a copy of the EEOC complaint, hospital officials reviewed Mercer’s “confidential pharmaceutical records” and concluded that Mercer “was abusing prescription medications and should be placed on temporary suspension,” the lawsuit said.

Mercer denied the allegations and revised his complaint with the EEOC to include charges of retaliation.

On Nov. 1, 2011, Mena Regional CEO Tim Bowen told Mercer in a letter that his contract wouldn’t be renewed.

After Mercer was released from the hospital, the EEOC found that “there is reasonable cause to believe that [Mercer’s] specific medical information was not kept confidential” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The EEOC invited Mercer and Mena Regional to “engage in a conciliation process,” but Mena Regional declined, the lawsuit said.

Mercer, who isn’t practicing now, is suing Mena Regional over several allegations, including that it violated the ADA and for retaliation. He is seeking unspecified damages.

An official from Mena Regional didn’t immediately return a call for comment Thursday afternoon.



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