Fresno hospital claims romantic ties of doctor group execs fueled 2020 doctor walkout

A 2020 walkout of Community Health’s neurosurgeons threatened Community Regional Medical Center’s Level 1 trauma status. A new filing expands on what fueled the walkout.

New details are emerging in a lawsuit filed by the Fresno-based Community Health System against the region’s largest doctor group following the near-loss of Community Regional Medical Center’s Level 1 trauma center status in 2020. 

Community filed a second amendment to its lawsuit last week as it gears up for a jury trial later this year. 


The backstory: Three years ago, during the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Level 1 trauma center status at Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC) was threatened when a contract with Central California Faculty Medical Group (CCFMG) for 28 physicians, including six neurosurgeons, expired. Community brought in locum physicians to fill neurosurgical coverage before a long-term deal was reached. 

  • In 2021, Community filed a lawsuit against CCFMG and Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group, an associated entity of Sante Health System, which is the region’s largest doctor group. Santé CEO Scott Wells and CCFMG CEO Joyce Fields-Keene were also named in the lawsuit. 
  • Community claimed in the lawsuit that Santé and CCFMG colluded to threaten the Level 1 trauma center status in an attempt to secure leverage. 

The big picture: During negotiations with CCFMG, Community was also engaged in separate discussions with Wells for the hospital’s dealings with Santé.

  • Santé allegedly relied on Community for more than $6 million in annual revenue, and Wells said in an email that Santé was “going to get burned down the road when they (Community) stop working with us.” 
  • Last week’s additions from Community claim Fields-Keene was living with and had been in a long-term romantic relationship with Wells and stood to suffer financial and reputational losses if Community stopped working with Santé. 
  • “This provided ample motivation for Ms. Fields-Keene, in her personal capacity, to work to neutralize CMC’s bargaining power in the Fresno medical community,” the lawsuit reads. 
  • Community goes on to claim that on Sept. 6 – just days after the contract with CCFMG expired – Community CEO Craig Wagoner sent an email to Fields-Keene detailing Community’s position on a new contract to resume neurosurgery. Fields-Keene allegedly forwarded the email to Wells within five minutes of receiving it. 
  • “And Mr. Wells for his part was actively involved in providing feedback and input in response, cajoling his fiancé Ms. Fields-Keene on September 8, 2020 into not stopping the neurosurgeons’ walkout because CMC ‘can’t get you that much money,’ later imploring, ‘Stop they cannot do it!!!’” the lawsuit reads. 

What we’re watching: Three years after being filed, the lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial on Aug. 21.

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