HEALTH LAW COMMITTEE 2021 APPELLATE LITIGATION UPDATE
Written by H. Thomas Watson
I. PEER REVIEW AND DISCIPLINE
Natarajan v. Dignity Health, 11 Cal. 5th 1095 (2021) (Peer review hearing officer is not automatically disqualified by the prospect of future engagements at the same hospital).
Following an investigation, the medical staff’s executive committee revoked the privileges of Dr. Sundar Natarajan, a hospitalist at St. Joseph’s Medical Center of Stockton (a Dignity facility), due to record keeping problems, untimely responses while on call, and the length of his patients’ hospitalizations. Dr. Natarajan appealed to the hospital’s peer review committee. The medical staff delegated the authority to appoint a peer review hearing officer to the hospital’s president, who appointed Robert Singerâa semiretired attorney who worked exclusively as a medical peer review hearing officer at various hospitals. Singer required that his contract bar St. Joseph’s from appointing him in another peer review proceeding for three years. Singer had served as the hearing officer in eight peer review proceedings at other Dignity Health hospitals and was appointed to two more after Dr. Natarajan’s proceeding, none involving St. Joseph’s. Singer served as the hearing officer for a similar number of hearings at entities affiliated with Sutter Health, and worked as a hearing officer for other health facilities as well. Singer denied Dr. Natarajan’s request that he recuse himself. After a year of evidentiary hearings, the review committee adopted the executive committee’s decision to revoke Dr. Natarajan’s privileges. Dr. Natarajan appealed that decision to St. Joseph’s governing board, which affirmed.