Lawsuit Against Florida Hospital Brings Questions About “Business of Medicine”

Steve Kenan’s death is still the subject of great debate among doctors. The Florida man died unexpectedly just three hours after a procedure to drain fluid from his chest. Now pathologists across multiple states are trying to decide what killed him: a medical mistake or his ongoing heart condition. While Kenan’s body was laid to rest after his death in 2013, his heart is still preserved in formaldehyde. It has been sent all over the southeast United States to be studied by various pathologists in an effort to get to the bottom of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Roland Lamb, the attorney that is representing St. Petersburg hospital in the lawsuit, said he has personally driven the heart to multiple states in an effort to preserve the chain of custody. “They won’t let me take formaldehyde on a plane,” he explained.

The Kenan family’s attorney is determined to seek justice. “This is no ordinary medical malpractice case,” Wesley Straw said. “It’s an amazing case. Steve and Alice Kenan are victims of the business of medicine.”

Straw said that the doctor’s mistakes were actually caused by the “financial incentives” that were in place between the cardiologist and the hospital at the time of Kenan’s death. According to federal and state law, hospitals are not allowed to provide perks or financial benefits to doctors for bringing in more patients or performing more procedures. However, Straw believes that’s exactly what happened between Kenan’s doctor and the hospital where he died.

Kenan was 56-years-old when he died. He had cardiomyopathy, a known heart disease that caused symptoms like shortness of breath. Straw said that test results had shown that Kenan was stable and didn’t have any evidence of risk for sudden cardiac heart events. However, doctors still elected to drain fluid from Kenan’s chest through a procedure called pericardiocentesis. He died three hours after the procedure was performed.

As attorneys began to dig into the case, they learned that the hospital had paid out over $300,000 in a “recruitment agreement” with an interventional cardiologist. It was this doctor who did the possibly unnecessary procedure on Kenan that led to his death. According to the lawsuit, even if Kenan did need the procedure done urgently, the doctors should never have sent him to that particular hospital. Attorneys have argued that doctors could be using emergency admission to avoid insurance requirements to get advance authorization before procedures that would be classified as elective. They may also be using emergency admission to pad the hospital and doctors with extra legal protections or to add on to the hospital bill.

Chris Ligori, a Tampa attorney who specializes in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, said the case was a complicated maze that could take months to unravel. “There are so many potential ways that you could pursue this case. The hospital and doctor named in this lawsuit will have an uphill battle to clear their name and avoid paying out major damages to the Kenan family.”