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L.A. judge refuses doctors' request to block City of Hope reorganization plan

October 25, 2010 |  6:00 pm

A Los Angeles judge has refused to block a key component of a controversial reorganization plan at City of Hope National Medical Center, dealing a blow to doctors who call management’s proposal an illegal grab for power at the prestigious facility in Duarte.

The almost yearlong dispute at the venerable San Gabriel Valley institution has attracted widespread attention as hospitals nationwide face uncertain times in an era of federal healthcare reform.

Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ruled Friday that there was insufficient evidence to issue a preliminary injunction against City of Hope. An injunction could have halted a central aspect of management’s restructuring of the cancer treatment and research complex.

At issue were allegations that administrators were moving illegally to control physicians and undermine the doctor-patient relationship by contracting with a doctors group headed by City of Hope’s chief medical officer, Dr. Alexandra Levine.

A group currently representing most doctors at City of Hope alleged that Levine and her group were a management front. The  reorganization plan, the group contended, violated state laws generally barring hospitals from hiring doctors directly, a safeguard meant to insure that medical decisions remain in the hands of physicians, not administrators. The case awaits trial.

City of Hope argues that its plans are legal and necessary at a time when healthcare is changing under new federal mandates.

“The judge’s ruling allows us to continue creating the infrastructure that will provide improved patient care, increase physician leadership throughout our organization and preserve the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” Dr. Michael A. Friedman, president and chief executive of City of Hope, said in a statement.

Dissenting doctors at City of Hope are considering a possible appeal and other options, said Jay Hartz, an attorney for the current physicians group.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell