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Teresa Helfers-Beitz v. William Degelman

December 14, 2010

TERESA HELFERS-BEITZ,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM DEGELMAN, DEFENDANT ALBERT BEITZ, PLAINTIFF; PROCTOR HOSPITAL, AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ASSOCIATES, LTD., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, AND
SERVICES, LTD., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No. 05-L-280 Honorable Belcrest Joe Vespa, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter

JUSTICE CARTER delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Teresa Helfers-Beitz, sued the defendant, Dr. William Degelman, for sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred during two appointments at Proctor First Care in Peoria. The plaintiff also sued defendants Proctor Hospital, Professional Medical Associates, Ltd., and Belcrest Services, Ltd. (collectively, the Proctor defendants), alleging that they negligently hired, retained, supervised, and credentialed Dr. Degelman. The circuit court granted the Proctor defendants' motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed. We affirm.

FACTS

The incidents of sexual misconduct giving rise to this action allegedly occurred during two appointments the plaintiff had with Dr. Degelman in February and March 2005. Dr. Degelman admitted in his deposition that there was no medical reason for his actions. The plaintiff sued Dr. Degelman for assault, battery, intentional affliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and negligence. The plaintiff also sued the Proctor defendants for negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision, and negligent credentialing. The circuit court granted the Proctor defendants' motion for summary judgment, which is the subject of this appeal.

In her pleadings, the plaintiff alleged that the Proctor defendants failed to conduct adequate background checks before hiring, retaining, and credentialing Dr. Degelman. The plaintiff alleged that during Dr. Degelman's previous employment with St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, Wisconsin, he had been accused of sexual harassment on more than one occasion and had committed an assault and battery against a patient. The plaintiff also alleged that the Proctor defendants breached a general duty to supervise Dr. Degelman.

Numerous depositions were taken during discovery. Testimony given during these depositions indicated that Dr. Degelman was hired in 1999 to work as a full-time physician at Proctor First Care. Todd Baker, who was the general manager of defendant Belcrest Services in 1999, stated that Belcrest was responsible for hiring Dr. Degelman. Baker reviewed Dr. Degelman's curriculum vitae, verified his medical license and malpractice insurance, and conducted an interview. Degelman was also interviewed by the medical director of Belcrest, Dr. Lee Hammond. Dr. Hammond also stated that he reviewed recommendations submitted on Dr. Degelman's behalf.

In 1999, the parent corporation of the Proctor defendants sought to become accredited with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. To meet the Joint Commission's accreditation standards, the Proctor defendants had to credential all of their physicians. Since that time, including the biannual recredentialing process, the Proctor defendants have used the Peoria Medical Society (PMS) to verify their physicians' credentials. PMS gathers background information on the physicians by sending requests to the physicians' former employers, seeking, inter alia, information on past misconduct. However, any responses to these requests are purely voluntary.

Dr. Degelman was credentialed as a part of the two-year process of becoming accredited with the Joint Commission. PMS did not receive any negative information from Dr. Degelman's previous employers, including St. Clare Hospital.

The plaintiff, however, disputed that PMS requested information from St. Clare Hospital. The plaintiff produced a letter from attorney Sarah E. Coyne in Madison, Wisconsin. The letter was dated November 6, 2009, and was addressed to an attorney at the firm representing the plaintiff. In the letter, Coyne stated that she "checked" with St. Clare Hospital and was told that, "[t]here was no credentialing inquiry in 2001. There were no credentialing inquiries to which the hospital responded by refusing to provide records."

The plaintiff also sought to challenge the adequacy of PMS' methods through the affidavit of Dawn Nunley, who had served for 17 years as a credentialing expert for Illinois Valley Community Hospital (IVCH) in Peru. During her tenure at IVCH, Nunley was contacted by PMS, which attempted to solicit IVCH as a client for its credential verification business. Nunley decided not to use PMS, however, as she believed PMS' background checks were inadequate. Nunley premised her opinion in part on Coyne's letter, although the affidavit contained no indication that the letter contained facts or data of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in Nunley's field. Despite Nunley's opinion, deposition testimony revealed that all three hospitals in the Peoria area use PMS as their credential verification organization.

In further support of her claims, the plaintiff submitted numerous documents she allegedly received from St. Clare Hospital in response to a December 2005 subpoena. The documents indicated that, while Dr. Degelman was employed by St. Clare Hospital, he had been the subject of several complaints regarding the adequacy of treatment he provided to patients. The documents also indicated that a co-worker alleged Dr. Degelman sexually harassed her on one occasion.

In response to the plaintiff's claims, the Proctor defendants argued that they had no reason to know of any misconduct from Dr. Degelman's past. The Proctor defendants pointed out that St. Clare Hospital did not report any misconduct in their responses to PMS' information requests. Further, deposition testimony revealed that Dr. Degelman's personnel file was reviewed after the February and March 2005 incidents, and the file contained no complaints from his time with the Proctor defendants. ...


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