Don’t simply ignore repeated offenses

Facilities address inappropriate conduct, harassment

With repeated offenses on physician harassment of staff, consider sending a formal letter saying a physician’s behavior is not acceptable, suggests Anita S. Lambert-Gale, RN, MES, vice president of clinical operations at Nashville, TN-based HealthMark Partners, which co-owns and manages surgery centers with physicians and hospitals.

At a center managed by HealthMark Partners, when a physician’s behavior is referred a second time to a center’s medical advisory committee, an investigatory committee is appointed to investigate the claims. They usually meet with the offending physician, remind the physician of the policy for nonretaliatory action, and make a recommendation to the committee. "Usually, if it’s gotten this serious, we’ll get legal counsel involved," Lambert-Gale says. The committee tells the physicians that if they don’t change, they risk losing privileges.

Michael Burnett, BSN, RN, clinical manger of the Adena Health Pavilion Surgery Center in Chillicothe, OH, previously worked at a facility where a physician made inappropriate sexual comments to a female staff nurse. He says the physician had a reputation for making such comments at that institution and previous ones. "We suspended the physician’s privileges for one year and then made him reapply," he says. The physician was able to obtain his privileges back, Burnett says.

As his current health system, two physicians have been released and are not permitted to return due to inappropriate conduct and harassment, including throwing instruments, he says. "It’s part of the organization culture, and it’s just not tolerated at the facility I’m at now," Burnett says. "We’re a shared governance model; nurses have strong input." Also, having a medical director who will not tolerate abuse is a strong deterrent to physician harassment of staff, sources say.

When managers take a strong stand, it pays off with your staff, says Brian A. Lapps Jr., JD, along with E. Brent Hill, JD, both members at Waller Lansden in Nashville, TN, spoke at this year’s annual meeting of the Federated Ambulatory Surgery Association.

"By being proactive and paying attention to employee-related issues, particularly issues related to unlawful harassment, an [ambulatory surgery center] can provide an attractive workplace to its employees, better retain qualified employees, and avoid expensive litigation," Lapps said.1


  1. Lapps BA, Hill EB. Dealing with the Problem Employee and Physician. Federated Ambulatory Surgery Association Program Syllabus; 2005.