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The director of the Johns Hopkins Regional Burn Center has filed a lawsuit that accuses his superiors of covering up "unsafe and dangerous" care at the center's pediatric unit and of retaliating against him after he reported the allegations internally.

Dr. Stephen M. Milner, who has been the burn center director for 10 years, alleges that senior Johns Hopkins Medicine officials violated the state's "healthcare worker whistleblower protection" law and breached his contract by ignoring his complaints and stripping him of his role supervising the center's children's division. His lawsuit against Hopkins Medicine, the health system and the university said inadequate care led to "preventable injuries" to six children.

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Hopkins officials have responded in court papers that Milner's allegations "have no merit." Hopkins spokeswoman Jania Matthews said the burn center director is sensationalizing an "employment dispute" by alleging safety concerns that he hopes will "sway the outcome" of his case.

Matthews confirmed that Milner remains the director of the burn center, a job he began in December 2004. The position supervises the adult burn unit at Bayview Medical Center and the pediatric burn unit at the Hopkins Bloomberg Children's Center in East Baltimore.

The facility at the Bayview campus, the only adult burn center in Maryland, serves patients from surrounding states as well. In the year ending May 2014, it treated 712 patients over age 15, according to the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

The pediatric unit treated 393 children during that same period and is one of two institute-designated centers where emergency responders must take patients.

The bulk of Milner's complaint alleges that his supervisors ignored concerns he started raising in early 2013 about Dr. Dylan Stewart's care of six children at the pediatric unit. The surgeon alleges that supervisors later "stripped him of his hospital privileges" at the East Baltimore location.

Stewart is co-director of the pediatric unit, along with Dr. Richard Redett, according to the Hopkins website.

In addition, Milner contends that his supervisors cut staff at the adult burn unit. That required him to "remain on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week," in addition to his other responsibilities as a medical school professor and director of Hopkins' burn research center and its wound center.

The lawsuit also states that Milner — not Stewart and Redett — possesses the qualifications required to maintain the designation from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

Matthews, speaking on behalf of Hopkins, as well as Stewart and Redett, said, "We would like the public to know that any questions raised about patient safety are always treated very seriously at Johns Hopkins. We are confident in our pediatric burn unit, that it provides high-quality care to our patients and that outstanding and deeply committed medical professionals staff it. Providing the safest and most appropriate care is always our top priority."

Milner was not available for comment. His lawyer, Jennifer L. Keel, said he tried for nearly two years to correct problems internally before filing the lawsuit in January.

"He did not want to do this," Keel said. "It wouldn't be helpful to his career to do this. But he wanted to do what was right for the kids."

The lawsuit requests that the court order Hopkins to reinstate Milner's authority over the burn center's adult and pediatric divisions, restore the Bayview center to full staffing and award him unspecified "compensatory damages."

The case was initially filed in January but Hopkins' lawyers asked Baltimore Circuit Judge Althea M. Handy to seal the complaint because they said it contained medical information that could identify the children listed anonymously. Keel said in court papers that Hopkins was trying to protect itself from potential lawsuits from the children's families by sealing the entire complaint.

The judge denied the motion to seal but ordered Keel to file a new complaint that redacts nearly all information about the children. The new complaint was filed April 1.

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Hopkins lawyers requested that a single judge oversee the entire case due to its complexities, including what they called the "novel legal issues" related to the state's whistle-blower protection act.

"There are very few cases that have substantially interpreted the [act]," Hopkins' lawyers stated in court records.

M. Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor, said deciding such disputes can be tricky.

"In these situations, when it can be a he-said-she-said case, it's just really difficult for any kind of third party to get a clear sense of the facts," Bloche said. "I have no basis for knowing if someone is putting patients at risk or if it's just a personality conflict."

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