Three years ago, Dr. Larry Gentilello was chair of the Division of Burn, Trauma and Critical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center. But, just like that, he was stripped of his position: Gentilello became aware of the fact trauma residents at Parkland were treating patients and performing surgery without attending physicians looking over their shoulders -- in other words, they were violating Medicare and Medicaid statutes. Gentilello reported this to his boss Dr. Robert V. Rege, the higher-up at UT Southwestern charged with investigating those kinds of allegations. But in a whistleblower suit filed in June 2007, as first reported in The News a week later, Gentilello says as soon as he told Rege about what he'd witnessed, there was no investigation at all. Instead, the doc lost his endowed position and was stripped of the title of Distinguished C. James Carrico, M.D. Chair in Trauma and knocked down to plain-ol' prof.
The hospital responded: Not only did it have sovereign immunity from such a suit, but, as one court recaps, Gentilello failed to allege that he reported a violation of law to an "appropriate law enforcement authority," which would undercut his claims of whistleblowing. The trial court disagreed, and case ultimately went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, which, last December, sent the case back to the Fifth District Court of Appeals to determine whether Gentilello had indeed legitimately alleged a violation under the Whistleblower Act.
The court of appeals handed down its opinion yesterday, ruling, yet again, in favor of Gentilello, who's still on staff as a UT Southwestern prof. Writes Justice Michael J. O'Neill: When the doc told his boss the hospital was operating illegally, he had every reason to think he'd be protected under U.S. federal whistleblower statutes: "Gentilello had a good faith belief that he reported to an appropriate law enforcement authority." The doctor's out of town and couldn't be reached, and his attorney, Charla Aldous, is in mediation all day. But messages have been left to see what's next.