41-42 Congressman Says Brigham Invoked Security Threat to Get Even with Docs Who Triggered Morcellation Debate

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This article is part of The Cancer Letter's How Medical Devices Do Harm series.

Congressman Says Brigham Invoked Security Threat to Get Even with Docs Who Triggered Morcellation Debate

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick accused top leaders of Brigham & Women’s Hospital of retaliating against patient advocates Amy Reed and Hooman Noorchashm when a hospital administrator declared the couple a security threat and subjected them to a physical search.

Noorchashm had to submit to being tailed by a security guard while his wife was undergoing an urgent cancer surgery Nov. 2.

“As Dr. Reed’s and Dr. Noorchashm’s Representative in Congress, I am deeply concerned about what appears to be an effort to retaliate against their advocacy and silence their First Amendment Rights,” Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) wrote in a letter Nov. 5 to Ron Walls, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Brigham.

“Dr. Reed’s husband was put under surveillance, targeted for enhanced security, and told if he did not submit to the terms ordered by Brigham that he would not be permitted to be by his wife’s side during her surgery to remove a third reoccurrence of her leiomyosarcoma,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

Fitzpatrick’s letter to Walls is posted here.

The day after Reed’s surgery, a Boston Superior Court judge ordered Brigham to lift the security restrictions, finding that Reed and Noorchashm will “suffer irreparable harm.” (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 3.)

Brigham officials acknowledge that they knew that Reed and Noorchashm were preparing to file a malpractice lawsuit at the time Walls decided to subject them to enhanced security measures.

However, hospital officials say the couple’s stated intentions to sue “absolutely” didn’t figure into Walls’s decision.

“Dr. Walls was aware that an intention to sue had been expressed in 2014,” a hospital spokesperson said to The Cancer Letter. “Threat of legal action does not supersede the hospital’s responsibility to provide a safe and secure work environment for our employees.”

Responding to Fitzpatrick’s letter, Walls said he stands by his original decision, stating that the security measures were reasonable, because of Noorchashm’s “disturbing and threatening” emails to hospital faculty and staff.

“It was not feasible to provide personal protection to all for the duration of his visit, so I put discreet security measures in place that would both ensure the protection of and alleviate the anxiety of our faculty and staff while allowing Dr. Noorchashm to be with his wife during her stay,” Walls wrote to Fitzpatrick Nov. 10. “I undertook these precautions with full knowledge that he would use them to distort the truth and once again publically criticize the hospital.

“Responding to the safety and security needs of our faculty, staff, our patients and their families is far more important to me than the impact of Dr. Noorchashm’s campaign of distortions.”

Walls’s response to Fitzpatrick is posted here.

Reed, formerly an anesthesiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Noorchashm, formerly a cardiothoracic surgeon at Brigham, have been vocal critics of the leadership of the Harvard-affiliated hospital. The couple led a national campaign to stop power morcellation, a surgical procedure routinely used by gynecologists, after Reed’s undetected sarcoma was spread by the procedure, performed at Brigham in October 2013 (The Cancer Letter, July 4, 2014).

Reed and Noorchashm’s attorney, Tom Greene, called Walls’s allegations “baseless.”

“Nowhere in Walls’s letter does he identify the faculty or staff who he claimed experienced ‘fear and anxiety.’ Nor does he identify any staff who found my client’s emails to be ‘threatening,’” Greene said to The Cancer Letter. “These same baseless allegations were made to the court by BWH’s counsel at the hearing on Nov. 3.

“[Boston Superior Court] Judge Elizabeth Fahey asked BWH’s counsel to produce an affidavit signed by the person who felt threatened. BWH counsel told the court he would produce an affidavit the following day at 9 a.m. After the hearing, BWH counsel informed me that BWH would not be producing the affidavit or returning to court the following day.

“Walls claims that the BWH was not retaliating or trying to silence my client’s expression of his opinions, arguments BWH counsel made to Judge Fahey, but these arguments were rejected by the court. Judge Fahey found that the BWH’s conduct damaged my client’s reputation and was in retaliation for his outspoken criticism.”

Reed Alleges Retaliation; Brigham Says “Absolutely Not”

After the power morcellation procedure spread her undetected tumor in 2013, Reed continued to return to Brigham for some of her cancer therapy.

“I find it inconsistent that despite dozens of visits to BWH, my husband’s letters to the administration, that are indeed numerous spread over two years, were suddenly deemed threatening to the point of requiring security measures two days after we filed a lawsuit against BWH?” Reed wrote in a letter to Walls Nov. 13.

Reed’s letter is posted here.

The couple’s attorney Greene said that on Dec. 11, 2014, Brigham officials were informed via letter about the couple’s intent to file a medical malpractice suit.

The suit was filed on Oct. 27, but Brigham officials weren’t immediately served.

On Oct. 29, Walls informed Reed and Noorchashm about his decision to institute the security measures. Greene said that a day later, he informed Brigham attorney Bob Hamel that the malpractice suit had been filed.

“Attorney Greene mentioned the filing of the suit in an off-hand comment to a hospital attorney on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, during a telephone call in which they were discussing the potential filing of an injunction relating to the security precautions we had put in place,” Brigham officials said to The Cancer Letter.

“Service of the summons and complaint was not made until the afternoon of Nov. 9. Dr. Walls was informed sometime thereafter.”

Brigham officials declined to comment on the pending litigation, citing hospital policy.

In the days following the security imbroglio, Noorchashm organized a letter-writing campaign against Brigham. Close to 300 supporters flooded Walls’s inbox, carbon-copying the press, Fitzpatrick, FDA and Congressional investigators.

“Many of us have met Drs. Noorchashm and Reed, seen them speak, or read their writings,” stated the majority of the letters, which contained similar language. “We do not see them as citizens capable of being a physical threat to anyone, rather, it is corporate misbehavior like yours that is a clear and present danger to the lives of ordinary citizens across the nation.”

Several letters demanded Walls’s resignation. Noorchashm contends that these demands are reasonable.

“First, Brigham didn’t act on a previous patient who was harmed, second, they failed to report adverse outcomes as required by federal law, and third, they violated our First Amendment rights by retaliating, as determined by a judge,” Noorchashm said to The Cancer Letter. “That’s not leadership behavior.”

Noorchashm’s response to Walls’s letter to Fitzpatrick is posted here.

Over the past two years, the couple’s advocacy led to FDA restrictions on the use of power morcellators and largely ended insurance coverage of the procedure.

The Government Accountability Office and FBI are looking into claims of violation of federal law—specifically Title 21, Section 803 of the Code of Federal Regulations—by neglecting to report adverse events.

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As 2024 approaches, it’s anyone’s guess whether an already complex health care ecosystem gets to turn the corner on the mixed legacies of 2023—including record high prices on new blockbuster medications coupled with drug shortages on existing generics, persistent staff shortages and battered hospital margins, and a continued emphasis on value-based care programs by insurers. 
Matthew Bin Han Ong
Senior Editor