The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 20, 2014

Doctor who smoked pot sues for firing

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — A doctor has sued Sharon Regional Health System, an affiliate entity and the president and chief executive officer of both entities trying to reclaim more than $200,000 in lost pay and benefits brought on by his firing.

Sharon Regional and the other defendants have asked a court to dismiss the suit brought by Dr. Craig A. McKinney, arguing it is not liable for any of McKinney’s troubles.

McKinney, 3503 Timber Lane, Hermitage, was hired in October 2007 by Sharon Regional Physicians Services as a general surgeon, the suit said. SRPS is a non-profit entity that hires physicians to work at SRHS’s medical offices, and they share an address.

On April 16, McKinney’s estranged wife told hospital officials that McKinney had smoked marijuana during his employment, according to the suit filed Dec. 9.

Officials met with McKinney and asked him about the reported use of pot. McKinney admitted he had smoked the drug while employed by SRPS, but said he had not used it while he was on-duty, and the use did not interfere with his performance, the suit said.

SRHS Chief Executive Officer John R. Janoso Jr. suspended McKinney and directed him to submit to a drug screen the next day, the suit said.

McKinney failed the drug screen and was fired on April 18, the suit said.

The “immediate reason” for the firing was McKinney’s admitted drug use and the failed test, according to a letter Janoso submitted to the State Board of Medicine on April 26. The letter was attached to McKinney’s suit.

Janoso went on to say that he had been watching McKinney because of “a series of medical malpractice events, resulting in one out of court settlement and two pending lawsuits.”

Janoso said McKinney “attempted to hide” one of the suits, which resulted in a default judgment.

“Several near misses in the rendering of patient care compounded the situation and heightened my alarm,” Janoso said.

Janoso also said that staff members had reported “an obvious change in Dr. McKinney’s mental status.” While Janoso said the change was initially attributed to “marital difficulties,” the accusations of “abuse of alcohol and drugs” made him view “the events of the past year in an entirely different light.”

Janoso said he has had “a good personal relationship” with McKinney but will not rehire him because of “repeated breaches of trust.”

The state board temporarily suspended McKinney’s medical license, and ordered that he undergo a mental and physical examination by Dr. Robert Wettstein of Pittsburgh.

Wettstein concluded, McKinney said, that McKinney’s pot toking did not constitute substance abuse or a substance abuse disorder, and that McKinney was able to practice medicine.

Wettstein also reported that McKinney suffers from “major depression,” but that it is in partial remission “and is not a barrier to his safe practice of medicine as a surgeon or otherwise.”

The state board reinstated McKinney’s medical license on Aug. 23.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration suspended McKinney’s ability to prescribe drugs, which prevents him from getting another job as a medical doctor, he said.

McKinney has charged SRHS, SRPS and Janoso with breach of contract, violating the state’s wage law, malicious prosecution, breach of statutory duty and defamation.

SRHS said it has no liability to McKinney because he was employed by SRPS.

The defendants cannot be held liable for reporting McKinney’s firing to the state board because they “did not initiate proceedings against” him. The state board’s prosecutor “exercised uncontrolled discretion in initiating such proceedings,” the defendants said.

The defendants said they were obligated to report to the board under the state law provision concerning a hospital having “substantial evidence that a professional has an active addictive disease.”

McKinney charged the hospital had no probable cause that he had an addictive disease or that he could not practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to his patients.

In terms of defamation, the defendants argued McKinney has failed to say what defamatory comments they allegedly made.

McKinney was paid a base salary of $290,000 a year and was eligible for incentive pay.