A strange result in Langenberg v. Warren General Hospital, suggests you should pay close attention to the termination language in hospital-physician employment contracts.
Warren General Hospital terminated Dr. Langenberg without cause specifically pursuant to the without cause provisions of his employment contract. Warren General Hospital nonetheless reported the termination as an adverse event to the National Practitioners Data Bank. In the report, the hospital stated that the termination was because Dr. Langenberg lacks ability, was disruptive and was abusive – despite the fact that there was no record on any complaints or of any disciplinary events regarding Dr. Langenberg’s employment.
Furthermore, it is clear in the National Practitioner Data Bank guidebook, both on page E-22 of the existing guidebook and page E-38 of the proposed revised guidebook that was proposed by HRSA on November 22, 2013, that termination of an employment is not a reportable event in and of itself.
The suit by Dr. Langenberg for breach of contract was dismissed. The Opinion suggests that hospitals may terminate physicians without cause and nonetheless report those terminations to the NPDB as adverse events, because hospitals cannot agree to violate the Data Bank reporting requirements.
Physicians and their legal counsel have long found solace in employment termination without cause as a safe harbor to avoid NPDB reporting. This case suggests that physicians should seek more protection in their employment contracts, and attempt to include provisions that they will not be terminated without cause unless the hospital does not intend to report the event to the NPDB. Conversely, the employment contract should state that any event that would produce a report to the NPDB should also be subject to the fair hearing provisions of the medical staff bylaws.