Anesthesiologist sues Optum-affiliated Oregon ASC for alleged retaliation firing

Anesthesiologist Ellis Richard Clark, MD, has filed a lawsuit against Optum-affiliated Salem (Ore.) Surgery Center, which operates under the name Northbank Surgical Center, for allegedly firing him in retaliation for complaining about unsafe anesthesia practices, according to an April 23 report from the Lund Report.

Dr. Clark claims that he was forced out of his position for objecting to situations he believed put patients in danger. He claims he was fired in retaliation after complaining to regulatory boards about a registered nurse who objected to administering a certain type of anesthesia. 

In his suit, Dr. Clark is seeking $1.63 million in damages from the ASC, which terminated him for "protected behavior which was taken for the purpose of protecting public safety," according to the lawsuit. 

Dr. Clark was terminated in April 2023 following an incident in which he directed a registered nurse to administer propofol, a short-term injectable anesthetic drug, to a patient. The nurse's supervisor interrupted the procedure and told her to stop administering the drug, according to the lawsuit. 

The nurse stopped after administering most of the dose, but not all of it, as Dr. Clark had specified. 

"Despite this, Dr. Clark assessed that the patient was at an adequate level of anesthesia but determined that the interruption was an unsafe practice situation because it put the patient at unnecessary risk and could have caused severe complications," the lawsuit states. 

Following the incident, Dr. Clark told Northbank he was contacting the Oregon Medical Board to express concern over the incident. He was then terminated via phone call shortly after. 

Dr. Clark had intended to retire from Northbank in 2026. 

Northbank is majority-owned by SCA Health, which is part of UnitedHealth Group's Optum. 

Representatives of Northbank and SCA Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Lund Report. 

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