Community Health System scores early win over Santé in 2020 doctor walkout lawsuit

A Fresno County judge weighed in on one portion of the complex lawsuit centering on the brief, but chaotic walkout of Fresno doctors from its largest hospital during COVID.

A Fresno County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of Community Health System in its lawsuit against a Santé-affiliated medical group that the latter breached its contract with Community. 

This is the first ruling in a lawsuit that dates back to September 2020 when a group of physicians walked out, threatening Community Regional Medical Center’s (CRMC) Level 1 trauma center status. 


The backstory: Three years ago, a contract with Central California Faculty Medical Group (CCFMG) and CRMC for 28 physicians expired. That included six neurosurgeons who worked in the trauma center. 

  • CRMC had to bring in locum physicians to fill neurosurgical coverage while a long-term deal was being negotiated. 
  • Two years ago, Community filed a lawsuit against CCFMG and Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group (CRMSMG), an associated entity of Santé Health System, the region’s largest doctor group. Community also named Santé CEO Scott Wells and CCFMG CEO Joyce Fields-Keene in the lawsuit. 
  • The lawsuit accuses Santé and CCFMG of colluding to threaten the Level 1 trauma center status in order to secure leverage in contract negotiations. 
  • The lawsuit also details separate negotiations that Community had with Santé and Wells at the time, accusing Wells and Fields-Keene of colluding given their romantic relationship. 

The big picture: Judge D. Tyler Tharpe issued a tentative ruling on July 20 that favors Community. 

  • Community moved for summary adjudication in the breach of contract allegation against the Santé-affiliated entities over the doctor group’s failure to provide 24-hour on-call neurosurgery coverage as agreed to in their contract, to which Tharpe concurred.
  • In his ruling, Tharpe wrote that the undisputed material facts showed that CRMSMG breached its contract with Community by staging a walking out with inadequate notice. 

What we’re watching: The case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning on July 1, 2024.

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