The Blankenship Law Firm Secured $2.5 Million Settlement for Physician Dr. Ramon Añel After Winning Partial Judgment One Month Prior to Scheduled Jury Trial.
SEATTLE, WA – The Blankenship Law Firm announces that Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) and two local Tacoma-based subsidiaries, CHI Franciscan Health and Franciscan Medical Group (FMG), agreed to pay Washington Tacoma physician Ramon Añel $2.5 million to settle his wrongful discharge, defamation, and malicious prosecution lawsuit.
“We negotiated this substantial settlement on the eve of trial and only after the Trial Court entered partial judgment for Dr. Añel,” says his lead attorney Scott Blankenship. “Dr. Añel refused to settle this case confidentially in order to clear his name and to empower others to oppose illegal actions in the workplace. He hopes it encourages positive change beyond his case.”
Dr. Añel filed suit on April 11, 2014 in King County Superior Court in Kent, Washington (Cause No. 14-2-10378-6 KNT). Superior Court Judge Richard McDermott granted partial judgment, double damages for wages, and entered orders just prior to trial, including that Defendants CHI, Franciscan Medical Group (FMG), and CHI Franciscan Health “wrongfully and willfully withheld wages due to Dr. Anel.” The Court further held as to his discharge claim: “Dr. Añel engaged in conduct directly related to wages, by protesting when Defendants failed to pay Dr. Añel and his colleagues’ wages…”
According to Court documents, Dr. Añel had built a highly successful and productive career with FMG and CHI Franciscan Health, companies headquartered in Tacoma, Washington. Dr. Añel joined FMG and CHI Franciscan Health in 2008 as their first employed nephrologist. He built the division and held several medical directorships throughout his tenure. Under Dr. Añel’s leadership, the division grew to six providers covering four clinics and four hospitals, and the expanse of CHI Franciscan Health’s nephrology and dialysis services widened. Deposition testimony and sworn declarations, including an endorsement from CHI Franciscan Health’s Chief Medical Officer, reflected that he was well respected by his peers, staff, and patients.
Dr. Añel presented testimony to the Court that he escalated concerns to administrators in October, 2012, about an alleged lack of physician oversight at CHI Franciscan Health’s dialysis services, unpaid physicians’ medical directorships, and administrators arbitrarily writing off physician time entries. While continuing to raise these concerns, his contracts were suddenly terminated without prior notice on October 14, 2013. Dr. Añel testified that he was seeing patients in his clinic when administrators came to his office, informed him of his termination, and instructed him to turn in his badge and leave the building.
Honoring a highly restrictive non-competition agreement, Dr. Añel stayed in the South Sound by opening a solo private medical practice. Court documents show that he maintained full medical staff privileges at CHI Franciscan Health and his testimony reflected his eagerness to build on the strong professional relationships he had developed. “I wanted to continue to work closely with CHI as an independent physician, and even hoped to support the practice and careers of colleagues and other healthcare providers at CHI Franciscan,” said Dr. Añel.
Documents filed during the case showed that when CHI learned Dr. Añel did not relocate, they took immediate action. Court documented email correspondence between CHI administrators included concerns that the loss of “even a single patient” to Dr. Añel would create an “avalanche” of lost patients. Thus, began a concerted effort to eliminate the “threat” that Dr. Añel posed to their business. Court documents confirm that CHI officials had fabricated complaints against Dr. Añel, including writing inaccurate incident reports, which were used to threaten his medical staff privileges. What was initially filed as a wrongful discharge became a defamation and malicious prosecution case based on retaliatory actions that occurred after Dr. Añel filed his lawsuit, as the amended complaints filed in Court reflect.
During pre-trial motions, Dr. Añel presented evidence alleging that CHI aggressively interfered with his ability to build his practice. Patients testified that CHI staff told them he had moved to the Philippines. Court documents reflect the fact that CHI routinely refused to turn over medical records to him when patients asked to transfer their care back to him. Despite maintaining full hospital privileges as an independent physician, CHI left him off the hospital websites, even though other independent providers were listed. Evidence entered in the case showed that the business cards he left were confiscated and thrown away. Medical providers, especially those employed by CHI, were specifically instructed not to refer patients to him, and these providers testified they felt threatened by their employer.
As documented by Dr. Añel in the record, CHI’s refusal to allow doctors to refer patients to Dr. Añel actually led to a medical crisis for a Group Health-insured patient, who had been referred to him at St. Anthony Hospital, a CHI hospital in Gig Harbor. Through their physician administrators, CHI allegedly ordered the referring hospitalist to rescind the referral to Dr. Añel, and, without Dr. Anel’s knowledge, dialysis nurses were told not to follow his written order for the patient’s dialysis therapy because “he was not a CHI physician.” As treatment was delayed, the patient eventually went into distress. In the middle of the night, Dr. Añel testified that he was frantically called by the patient’s other nurses and informed that his orders were deliberately not being followed. He arranged for emergent bedside dialysis and, as a result, the patient was stabilized. Dr. Añel reported this incident to CHI Franciscan Health and the Washington State Department of Health. While Court documents show that CHI’s internal investigation absolved their executives and healthcare providers of any wrongdoing, the Washington State’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission is still currently investigating CHI employees for their role in this incident.
The Court record confirms that within days of filing a formal complaint with the Washington State Department of Health, CHI furnished the Gig Harbor Police Department with supposed evidence accusing Dr. Añel of sending anonymous harassing texts through the hospital paging system. Dr. Añel reported this serious patient care issue internally and to the Washington State Department of Health, following which, CHI Franciscan Health officials provided information to the police that led to Dr. Añel being charged with a criminal misdemeanor. However, after reviewing the case and in light of additional exculpatory evidence obtained by The Blankenship Law Firm, the Gig Harbor Prosecutor dismissed the charge against him on July 23, 2014, as reflected in the Court file.
“A year after the dismissal of the criminal charge, Defendants finally produced computer hard drives,” says Blankenship, “when analyzed by computer forensic expert, Allison Goodman, evidence from the hard drives showed that Dr. Añel could not have sent the harassing messages.” As presented in the Motion for Spoliation Sanctions, despite the ongoing litigation, CHI Franciscan failed to preserve evidence that would have exonerated Dr. Añel from the beginning. The Court record ultimately confirms that the CHI’s charges were unfounded, as CHI officials and other defense witnesses admitted through cross examination during depositions that information they provided to the police was inaccurate, incomplete, and based on misleading and false data. The forensic report referred to above, deposition testimony, and other documents reflecting this are all contained in the Court record.
Indeed, despite more than a year of litigation and multiple depositions by the parties, the Court file reflects that not a single CHI Franciscan witness could provide any first-hand knowledge or evidence supporting the allegations made against Dr. Añel. Each testified to his skill as a physician and the high level of care that he provided. Dozens more were poised to testify on his behalf in the upcoming trial.
“Dr. Añel has been vindicated,” said his attorney Scott Blankenship. “I am glad that this is behind him, and that his substantial contributions to CHI Franciscan Health have been recognized.”
According to its website http://www.catholichealthinitiatives.org/, Denver-based CHI is the second largest non-profit health system nationally. It currently operates more than 108 hospitals in 19 states nationwide. In Washington, CHI Franciscan Health owns area hospitals St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw, St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton and Silverdale, Highline Medical Center and Regional Hospital in Burien, and a network of regional primary and specialty clinics.
Dr. Ramon Añel continues to practice nephrology at Key Nephrology, PLLC in the South Sound. He successfully faced off with one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, and remains optimistic that he can carry on serving his community. As Dr. Añel states, “I am very grateful that my lawyers and the civil justice system allowed me to clear my name. I am especially grateful to my colleagues and patients who came forward to speak the truth. Their courage made it possible for what CHI has done in darkness to come to light.”
Scott Blankenship served as lead counsel for Dr. Añel with attorneys Paul Woods, Rick Goldsworthy, and Robin Shishido from The Blankenship Law Firm. The Blankenship Law Firm, P.S., is an AV-rated law firm located in downtown Seattle with lawyers licensed in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The firm practices in state and federal trial and appellate courts, while practicing primarily employment law and related complex civil litigation with an emphasis in representing physicians, administrators, and other medical providers in all phases of negotiation and litigation.
Seattle Press Conference with lead counsel, Scott Blankenship, and plaintiff, Dr. Ramon Añel, to be held Friday, December 4th at 1:00 P.M. at The Blankenship Law Firm, P.S., 1000 Second Ave., Suite 3250, Seattle, WA 98101; Contact: The Blankenship Law Firm 206-343-2700; Scott Blankenship 206-898-6033 (mobile).