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Valfer v. Evanston Northwestern Healthcare

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

April 30, 2015

STEVEN I. VALFER, M.D. and HIGHLAND PARK, OB-GYN ASSOCIATES, LTD., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
EVANSTON NORTHWESTERN HEALTHCARE, n/k/a NORTHSHORE UNIVERSITY HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 L 3933. Honorable Brigid Mary McGrath, Judge Presiding.

For Steven I. Valfer, M.D., Appellant: Leslie J. Rosen, Leslie J. Rosen Attorney at Law, P.C., Chicago.

For Appellee: David E. Dahlquist, J. Ethan McComb, Christopher J. Letkewicz, Laura B. Greenspan, Winston & Strawn LLP, Chicago.

JUSTICE HOWSE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Cobbs concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 884

HOWSE, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Defendant Northwestern Healthcare, n/k/a Northshore University Health System

Page 885

(ENH) conducted peer review under the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act (the Act) (210 ILCS 85/1 et seq. (West 2012)), relating to the conduct of plaintiff Steven I. Valfer, M.D. and revoked his privileges to practice at ENH. Valfer subsequently sought civil damages against ENH. ENH filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was immune from damages under the Act, and the trial court granted ENH's motion. Dr. Valfer now appeals the trial court's ruling on summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Dr. Valfer is an obstetrician and a gynecologist (OB-GYN). He has been licensed to practice medicine in Illinois since 1975.

[¶4] In November 2000 and September 2001, Dr. Valfer was reappointed to the ENH staff. With respect to the September 2001 reappointment, Dr. Valfer received a letter from the president of ENH hospitals and clinics stating that his reappointment would end on May 31, 2002.

[¶5] In February 2002, Dr. Valfer applied for reappointment at ENH. Also in February 2002, Dr. Nelson, the division chief of gynecology, reviewed one of Dr. Valfer's gynecological surgeries and deemed that it did not meet relevant criteria. This prompted an additional review of surgeries performed by Dr. Valfer during the preceding 12 months.

[¶6] On May 6, 2002, Dr. Nelson prepared a memorandum regarding concerns he had with several laparoscopic cases Dr. Valfer had performed. Dr. Silver, chairman of the OB-GYN department, received a copy of this memorandum.

[¶7] On June 4, 2002, Dr. Nelson and Dr. Silver met with Dr. Valfer to discuss their findings that at least 50% of Dr. Valfer's surgical cases reviewed lacked demonstratable indications for surgical intervention. Following this discussion, Dr. Valfer voluntarily agreed to refrain from performing gynecological surgery until the pending issues were resolved. Dr. Valfer retained all other privileges. Accordingly, Dr. Silver notified the ENH operating room that day that Dr. Valfer's operating privileges were suspended until further notice. Also on June 4, 2002, Dr. Silver sent Dr. Valfer a letter stating that he would not recommend Dr. Valfer for reappointment at ENH. Dr. Silver explained that his recommendation was based on patient safety and specifically the fact that " [m]ultiple surgical cases for which approved indication for the intended procedures appear to be lacking." The letter also explained that if the executive committee accepted Dr. Silver's recommendation for nonreappointment, Dr. Valfer would be notified in writing.

[¶8] On July 3, 2002, ENH's executive committee met to discuss Dr. Valfer and its position on his reappointment to the medical staff. The executive committee determined that it would recommend to the ENH Board of Directors that Dr. Valfer not be reappointed.

[¶9] On July 9, 2002, the President and Chief Executive Officer of ENH sent Dr. Valfer a certified letter advising him that the professional staff had accepted a recommendation not to reappoint him to the ENH staff. The letter set forth the reasons for the decision and explained Dr. Valfer's rights for a hearing.

[¶10] In 2004, ENH held an ad hoc hearing regarding Dr. Valfer's privileges. At the hearing, Dr. Nelson and Dr. Hansfield testified against Dr. Valfer. The record contains evidence that Dr. Nelson and Dr. Hansfield were competitors of Dr. Valfer, both having offices in close proximity to Dr. Valfer's ...


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