GREG LOWER

The jury began deliberations Friday afternoon in a civil lawsuit against Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center.

The case went to the jury at 1:50 pm Friday after eight days of testimony from 14 witnesses.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Gregg Rickabaugh is seeking $5.2 million after his contract with the hospital was cancelled in 2016. In addition to the hospital itself, the suit named hospital Chief Executive Officer Dennis Franks and Chief Medical Officer Charles Van Houden as defendants.

Each of the four attorneys in the case presented 40-minute closing arguments before a 15-minute rebuttal from the plaintiff’s attorney, Bill Skepnek from Lawrence.

Attorney David Brake represents the hospital, with Sean Walsh representing Franks and Wichita attorney Mark Maloney representing Van Houden.

According to court documents, Rickabaugh provided anesthesia services at the hospital beginning in 1988. His company, Chanute Anesthesia Services, concluded a two-year contract Dec. 31, 2015, and was in negotiations for a new contract when the hospital contracted instead with Clinical Colleagues, Inc.

Rickabaugh was scheduled to meet with Franks and other hospital officials May 3, 2016, but did not attend due to a surgery. A draft contract was sent to him the next day, and he responded with an email objecting to some provisions.

Franks and Dr. Scott Coates were en route to a conference in Miami by way of Dallas when NMRMC received notice May 7 of an anonymous letter accusing Franks of an improper relationship. Hospital administration contacted Franks and members of the Board of Trustees with copies of the letter.

Rickabaugh’s attorney argued that the hospital’s action in contracting with another company was in retaliation to the letter, believing Rickabaugh responsible for sending it.

“On May 7, the world changes,” he said.

Skepnek said the CCI contract contained an estimated number of surgeries per year 1,000 higher than intended, and Franks and other officials did not see this. He said the $1.1 million per year contract was more expensive.

“It’s not their money, it’s the people’s money,” he said in rebuttal.

Defense attorneys argued that the action of contracting with another provider was because of Rickabaugh’s reluctance to provide additional CRNAs at the hospital, among other issues.

Walsh said Rickabaugh tends to be aggressive towards staff and is temperamental.

“You see the kind of personality the hospital was dealing with,” he said.

Maloney said Franks returned May 9 and learned of Rickabaugh’s email response to the draft contract.

At its following meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to seek other options and approved the contract with CCI in June.

Maloney said Franks had no desire to punish Rickabaugh.

Brake compared the higher contract to a baseball team owner spending more on a new pitcher. He said the trustees had no interest in any letters or emails.

The jury started with 12 jurors and three alternates. During testimony Wednesday, one juror reported feeling ill. Van Houden tended to the juror with a bailiff present, and the juror was released. On Friday, Judge David Rogers designated who the remaining two alternates were before deliberations.

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