Secrecy surrounding physician’s alleged incompetence now at issue in court case
Stressed doctor (Shutterstock)
The secrecy surrounding a state licensing board's investigation of a Waterloo surgeon twice accused of incompetence is now the subject of litigation headed for the Iowa Supreme Court.
At issue is the fact that patients who sue for malpractice have no way of knowing whether their doctor is the subject of an active, ongoing investigation by the Iowa Board of Medicine. And while the board might eventually take public action against the doctor, the process may take five or 10 years – long after the patients have had their day in court. In many cases, the board only discloses concerns about a physician once it has negotiated a settlement to a formal set of charges.

In the case at hand, a patient who sued his surgeon for malpractice lost at trial, but just five weeks later the board publicly accused the doctor of incompetent patient care dating back 10 years. Prior to the trial, the doctor's lawyers had claimed their client never had been the subject of a board investigation.

The case involves Dr. Eromosele Otoadese, a 68-year-old physician who practices vascular medicine in Waterloo. Earlier this month, Otoadese entered into a settlement agreement with the Board of Medicine, which accused him of professional incompetence. The board alleged Otoadese performed a carotid endarterectomy – a surgical procedure to remove a build-up of fatty deposits in an artery – without properly monitoring the patient for electrical activity in the brain.

Details about the patient have not been made public by the board, but in 2016, William McGrew of Waterloo sued Otoadese and the Northern Iowa Cardiovacular and Thoracic Surgery Clinic. McGrew alleged that in September 2014, Otoadese improperly performed a carotid endarterectomy on him, leaving him with facial droop and weakness on his left side, which indicated he had suffered a stroke. Two other doctors later concluded that operation and a subsequent attempt at corrective surgery were not warranted, the lawsuit claimed.

Otoadese denied any wrongdoing, and a jury sided with Otoadese and the other defendants in the case.

Board discloses settlement five weeks after trial

But in April 2019, just five weeks after the jury had returned its verdict, the Board of Medicine reported that it had entered into a settlement agreement with Otoadese over previously undisclosed concerns that he failed to provide appropriate medical care to five unspecified Waterloo patients between 2009 and 2014.

As part of that 2019 settlement, Otoadese was given a citation and warning and ordered to pay a $5,000 civil penalty. He was also ordered to complete a comprehensive clinical competency evaluation and was placed probation for a period of three years, subject to board monitoring.

Armed with that information, McGrew's lawyers sought a new trial, asserting that Otoadese's attorneys had falsely stated their client had not been the subject of any board investigations. They also argued that they should have been allowed to question Otoadese at trial regarding his loss of privileges to perform certain surgeries, as well as his termination from Cedar Valley Medical Specialists in 2012.

Otoadese's lawyers told the court the failure to disclose the board investigation was a mistake on their part, and that the information about Cedar Valley would have raised “collateral issues that would have been a waste of the court and jury's time and created suspicions, doubts, and potential hostilities towards Dr. Otoadese."

Judge denies request for new trial

In May, District Court Judge Kellyann Lekar denied McGrew's request for a new trial, ruling that Otoadese's loss of privileges “was not relevant to the issues to be decided by the jury in the present case and, further, even if relevant, had prejudicial effect that far exceeded any probative value that that evidence might provide."

As for the failure to disclose the board investigation to McGrew's lawyers, Lekar ruled that “a pending investigation is not proof of wrongdoing." She added that under Iowa court rules, information about a pending investigation would not have been admissible anyway, and couldn't even be used on cross-examination to impeach Otoadese's credibility.

McGrew is now appealing that ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court.

District court records indicate that Otoadese testified in a deposition that in 2008 or 2009 he had “voluntarily" surrendered his privileges to perform heart surgery at Allen Memorial Hospital, then sued the hospital, resulting in a confidential settlement. Otoadese's lawyers argued in court that Otoadese considered the actions taken against him at Allen Memorial Hospital to be “political" in nature, and that the cessation of his performance of open heart surgery had been “negotiated."

The records also indicate that in 2012, Otoadese was fired from Cedar Valley Medical Specialists, and that in a subsequent deposition Otoadese testified he had been “kicked out" of CVMS because the clinic was not able to secure insurance to cover his practice. In 2013, Otoadese opened Northern Iowa Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Clinic.

In its recent settlement with Otoadese, the Board of Medicine said it had received information indicating Otoadese's privileges to perform certain peripheral arterial procedures had been “summarily suspended" at an unspecified hospital due to improper documentation practices with respect to eight patients.

Under the terms of his new settlement agreement with the board, Otoadese has been issued another citation and warning and ordered to pay a $2,000 civil penalty. He has also agreed that he will no longer perform peripheral arterial procedures in Iowa.

Otoadese did not respond to calls Wednesday from the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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