Atrium Health punches back, countersues doctors as fight over lost contract escalates

Atrium Health punches back, countersues doctors as fight over lost contract escalates
Carolinas HealthCare System’s planned partnership with UNC Health Care is likely to raise health insurance premiums, experts say. (Deon Roberts | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Deon Roberts/The Charlotte Observer) - Lies, defamation and breach of confidentiality were among the claims Atrium Health lobbed at a company and its affiliate that supplies anesthesiologists to many of Atrium's Charlotte-area hospitals.

Those accusations were part of Atrium's countersuit in a high-profile fight over a lost health care contract.

The legal action filed late Wednesday comes after Florida-based Mednax and affiliate Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants sued Atrium last week after losing a contract with the hospital system. In that suit filed in state court in Mecklenburg County, Atrium is accused of stealing Southeast's trade secrets and using the information to help launch a new vendor that now has the contract.

PREVIOUS: Mecklenburg Medical Group doctors sue Atrium Health to break away from hospital system

In its suit, Charlotte-based Atrium denied the allegations and accused Mednax and Southeast of defamation from a marketing campaign that in recent days has included newspaper and radio ads as well as billboard messages across Charlotte.

The campaign draws attention to Southeast's loss of its contract and suggests that patient health is being put at risk by Atrium's switch to the new vendor. In its suit, Atrium said the campaign has led some patients to cancel procedures.

Neither side has said how much the lost contract was worth.

RELATED: In Atrium Health contract fight, doctors go on the offensive

The new vendor, Scope Anesthesia of North Carolina, will begin providing anesthesiologists to most of Atrium's Charlotte-area hospitals on July 1. Those facilities are Cleveland, Mercy, Lincoln, Kings Mountain, Pineville, Union and Atrium's flagship location in Dilworth.
Scope was created in January by Dr. Thomas Wherry, a consultant Atrium brought on last year to evaluate its anesthesiology business. Wherry and Atrium have declined to disclose the contract's terms.

Atrium's suit also accuses Mednax of breaching confidentiality agreements by disclosing to Atrium's surgical staff information from presentations that Wherry gave last year. Mednax has used that information to mislead Atrium staff and the public into thinking that Atrium will be slashing anesthesiologist staffing at hospitals, Atrium's suit says, adding that such claims are a lie.

The suit also claims that Mednax rejected steps that Atrium suggested to lower anesthesiology costs for patients while maintaining the same level of patient care. That rejection was one of the reasons nonprofit Atrium decided not to renew the contract with Southeast, according to the lawsuit, which accuses publicly traded Mednax of being preoccupied with profits.

Mednax and Southeast did not respond to requests for comment.

This is a developing story.