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Doctors' firings rescinded, but all 3 still barred $200,000 incomes to continue; both sides claim victory


Three fired Maryland Shock Trauma Center doctors reached a settlement yesterday with the University of Maryland Medical Systems that rescinds their dismissals and pays them their full annual salaries, estimated at $200,000 each.

Both sides claimed victory after the agreement -- which bars the physicians from the hospital -- was announced by Baltimore Circuit Judge Hilary D. Caplan.

"We feel vindicated," said Dr. Howard Belzberg, a neuro-trauma specialist. "The university has agreed to put us back on salary, but they're afraid of us. They won't allow us back on the facility.

The other physicians involved are surgeons, Drs. C. Michael Dunham and Ameen I. Ramzy. All three were fired after complaining about policy changes made by Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Systems Director Dr. Kimball Maull, who runs Medical Systems and Shock Trauma.

After assuming his post six months ago, Dr. Maull opened Shock Trauma to patients with mid-level and minor injuries. Staff physicians complained, saying they wanted the facility to continue its mission of concentrating on patients with severe injuries. He said he would proceed with the facility's new direction.

"From my perspective, it's a great victory for us," Dr. Maull said of the settlement, adding that his major goal was to prevent the three from returning to Shock Trauma. "I wanted to do everything possible to prevent that. My agenda all along has been to get these physicians out of the workplace so that we could move on."

Dr. Maull said he will not tolerate obstruction of his policies by staffers.

"If they disagree with the direction in which the Maryland Institute is going, they need to find some other place to work," he said, adding that he was recruiting physicians who would support those policies.

The accord among the parties was hashed out in an hourlong session in Judge Caplan's chambers during the time a hearing was scheduled on the doctors' request for an injunction to reverse the firings.

The settlement dismissed a suit filed by the doctors, who claimed the firings violated their contracts. The agreement:

* Rescinds the July 27 firings.

* Requires UM Medical Systems to pay the portion of the salaries the doctors receive from the state, plus benefits, until June 30, when their contracts expire. That amounts to $27,000 a year to Dr. Ramzy, $34,600 to Dr. Dunham and $36,600 to Dr. Belzberg.

* Forces UM Medical Systems to pay the larger portion of their earnings, which came from private billings through their work at the center.

Each made about $200,000 a year, UM officials said.

Although claiming victory, Dr. Belzberg said that he had hoped to be reinstated when he arrived in court yesterday, but he said that Judge Caplan told them he could not order UM Medical Systems to take them back. Dr. Belzberg said he challenged the policy changes because he was convinced they would boost the operation's financial performance at a cost of quality health care.

While the three will be permitted to work elsewhere, Dr. Belzberg said Dr. Maull has a monopoly on trauma centers in this area, so it's the only place he can work. To find other employment, he said he'd have to move or take a lower-level position.

Dr. Dunham said he is disappointed about not being returned to his post and will take time before deciding about his future.

Drs. Ramzy and Belzberg said they will "be back" at Shock Trauma in the future.

When asked to explain, Dr. Belzberg said that once people realize the quality of health care will suffer because of the policy changes, Dr. Maull will be dismissed.

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