Under the Knife

After a long history of public drunkenness and allegations of slashing two men's throats, it is time to examine the troubled practice of Dr. John Hargett

Charlotte says she remembers Hargett's words as he ordered the transfer. "He said, 'I guess I could put a soft cervical collar on your husband, but I think the damage has already been done. I am so sorry.'"

Although Hargett settled his portion of the lawsuit before it went to trial, the jury found in 1988 that he was 45-percent liable and the hospital 55-percent liable. The jury awarded the Cappses $3.4 million.

When reached by telephone at her home in rural Commerce, Charlotte says the past 10 years have been "pretty rough." Wiley Capps suffers from constant headaches and neck pain. He has lost muscle tone in his upper shoulders and has no sensation from the midchest down. Wiley also is unable to clear his throat, and must be manually coughed.

Charlotte has employed nurses and countless friends to help care for her
quadriplegic husband, but the task has grown too great. Next month, she is moving Wiley into a nursing home.

"I took care of him for two years. I got arthritis real bad, and I just couldn't do it anymore," she says.

Columbia Medical Center spokeswoman Ellen Lytle refused to discuss Hargett's history with the hospital, and wouldn't say whether he has staff privileges today. "We can't release anything," Lytle says. "It's all privileged information."

Court records show, however, that Hargett was not an "active" member of the staff from September 24, 1991, through October 1992. The hospital divulged that information in court documents filed in response to a pending wrongful death suit that names Hargett as a defendant.

That case, filed in 1994, states that Robbie Moon arrived at the McKinney hospital on March 11 of that year complaining of severe headaches. She was given shots for pain and sent home with orders to contact her doctor in the morning. When Moon arrived at Hargett's clinic the next day, Hargett's assistant, Kenneth Bailey, gave her a shot for pain and scheduled her for a CT scan on March 14.

On March 12, Robbie Moon returned to the emergency room. She was "vomiting, photophobic, and in excruciating pain," according to the lawsuit. Unable to reach Hargett, Dr. Mitchell Bowman gave Moon another shot of painkiller and sent her home. Again, no tests were performed, Moon's family claims in the lawsuit. In the early hours of March 14, Moon returned to the hospital a third time. After a telephone conference with Hargett, Dr. William Frazier finally admitted Moon to the hospital but, again, no tests were performed.

Hargett showed up that morning at 10, 15 minutes before Moon's brain began to hemorrhage and her heart failed. Moon was flown to Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas for surgery, but never regained consciousness. She died the next day.

Brian Eberstein, the Moons' attorney, declined to comment on the case. He has filed numerous motions seeking confirmation that Hargett took a one-year leave from the hospital staff to undergo chemical dependency treatment.

In a harshly worded response, Hargett's civil attorneys, Michael Schonberg and Maureen Murry, stated that the information is irrelevant to the case and would violate Hargett's right to privacy if made available. Eberstein's request is "nothing more than a harassing witch hunt for potentially inflammatory information having no bearing on Mrs. Moon's treatment or lawsuit," they wrote.

Murry and Schonberg took special exception to Eberstein's request for copies of Hargett's tee times and bar tabs at the McKinney Country Club since 1992.

"In addition to being totally irrelevant, the request for Dr. Hargett's country club tee times and liquor purchase records is an overly broad, unreasonable, annoying, and harassing invasion of Dr. Hargett's personal and constitutional rights to privacy and liberty," they wrote.

One doctor at Columbia Medical Center said privately, however, that Hargett's alcohol consumption is an ongoing issue among the staff.

The doctor, who did not wish to be identified, confirmed that Hargett's staff privileges have been suspended and that he underwent chemical dependency counseling. His staff privileges were later reinstated, and Hargett was supposed to remain sober, but didn't, the doctor says. Still, Hargett continued to work in the hospital.

"They couldn't yank his privileges, because the state took no action," the doctor says. "If the Texas Medical Examiners board doesn't do anything, and you try to do something, you might as well shoot yourself in the foot."

Through all of his troubles, Hargett has clung stubbornly to his struggling medical practice.

In March, the doctor filed a plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to reorganize his McKinney Family Clinic under Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 provisions. He made the move after the Internal Revenue Service stepped up its efforts to collect $127,549 in unpaid personal income taxes spanning several years.

In bankruptcy filings, Hargett listed more than $222,000 in debts, including unpaid student loans and back rent due to the Living Centers of America, which owns the building that houses Hargett's McKinney Family Clinic practice. The court approved Hargett's reorganization plan in May, allowing him to keep his practice.

Hargett's financial troubles apparently haven't cut into his entertainment budget. In fact, Hargett kicked off the new year at Chris Blue Tee's, where he wrote a check for $100.

Hargett also has maintained his membership at the McKinney Country Club, the McKinney Chamber of Commerce, and St. John's Lodge No. 51--a Masonic organization with historical ties to Collin County's founding fathers. Charles Hopkins Wysong, one of Collin County's earliest pioneers, is credited by historians with organizing more Masonic lodges than any other Texan. In addition to building Wysong Memorial Hospital, his son Walter went on to become a 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Mason.

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