Children's Hospital stands behind CEO, doctor named in lawsuit

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- Children's Hospital & Medical Center backed its chief administrator and one of its surgeons named in a lawsuit filed Friday by two former colleagues.

The lawsuit was filed today in Douglas County court against the hospital; its president and CEO, Dr. Richard G. Azizkhan; and Conley. In the complaint, Dr. Mark Puccioni, a pediatric neurosurgeon, and plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Miller expressed concerns about Conley's performance and alleged that the hospital, its CEO, and Conley himself disparaged their reputations.

DOCUMENT: Read the complaint

With more than a decade of medical experience between them, the plaintiffs filed the complaint after a tragedy in the operating room, according to their attorney, Tom White.

"Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni complained of absolute malpractice that caused the unnecessary death of a child," White said. "Children's had a monetary interest in protecting that physician."

White said both doctors expressed concerns to administrators at Children's Hospital, including the CEO, about the skills and competency of the surgeon who operated on the 7-month-old — and were retaliated against.

"Two days later, Dr. Miller and Dr. Puccioni are suspended," he said. "They certainly went to the administration, and of course you have to understand Dr. Puccioni had already raised concerns before this child's death."

Friday's lawsuit comes after reports that 10 Children's surgeons resigned their practicing privileges at the hospital. Those departures prompted the Nebraska Medical Association to send a letter to the hospital saying, in part, that they were "saddened to hear of children being transferred to outside institutions for additional care because of complications and inadequate specialist physician coverage at Children's Hospital."

Children's Hospital responds

The hospital stood by Azizkhan and Conley on Friday, issuing the following statement:

Children's Hospital & Medical Center does not comment on pending litigation other than to say we strongly disagree with these allegations. We stand behind our executive leadership, medical team and our processes, and are confident that these claims against our hospital, Dr. Azizkhan and Dr. Conley will be proven to be without merit.

We are also saddened by the manner in which this family's tragic loss has been utilized by the plaintiffs in this litigation. We have spoken with the family to express our shock with the way this extremely personal and painful situation has been publicized.

The hospital's statement echoed the sentiments of an internal memo, issued Thursday on behalf of Azizkhan and obtained by 6 On Your Side on Friday morning, which said media reports regarding the exiting surgeons were incomplete and that the hospital is "limited in what we can say regarding personnel matters."

Azizkhan's full post reads:

In the last 24 hours, local media have reached out to Children’s with questions related to personnel matters. The media have incomplete information, but we are limited in what we can say regarding personnel matters. We expect WOWT to air a story tonight. We have tried to address some of their questions in a statement which is included here below my signature. In a spirit of transparency, we want to share with you what we shared with them so you are aware.

Our focus continues to be improving the lives of children. This commitment informs every decision, challenge and opportunity that comes our way. It’s our anchor, and it’s why we have embraced a vision that puts children first. We’re growing on all fronts of our mission — clinical care, research, education and advocacy — because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our patients and families. I believe the positive impact we are having on the health of children in our region has never been greater.

Progress — and the transitions that come with it — can be challenging, but our commitment to the health and well-being of children is unwavering. Children’s is not comprised of one executive, provider or employee; it is a team of thousands of dedicated, talented individuals who care deeply about children. I am immensely proud of who we are and what we do as The Best Place for Kids.

Richard Azizkhan, M.D.

He also shared the statement he made Thursday to 6 On Your Side in the post to hospital employees.

A statement made Friday by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services followed suit:

We take any allegations related to patient care seriously. As far as possible complaints/investigations against health care professionals or facilities, state statute prohibits us from providing information that would address whether or not a complaint has been filed or if there is an investigation.

On social media

The 10 surgeons' departure from Children's has left many patient families with concerns about the current and future care of their children. Dr. Puccioni tweeted words of support Friday afternoon: