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Missouri: Omitting some hospital affiliations from license application not unprofessional conduct

The Missouri Court of Appeals, in a March 10 decision, overturned a decision by a state Administrative Hearing Commission that would have allowed the Missouri Board of Healing Arts to pursue discipline against a doctor whose hospital staff privileges were revoked after he failed to disclose all of his previous affiliations on a re-application form (Chaganti vs. Missouri Board of Healing Arts).

During a 2006 re-application for hospital staff privileges, physician Surendra Chaganti failed—apparently, unintentionally—to include all of his past hospital affiliations, omitting three of six.

Learning of the omission, administrators at the hospital to which Chaganti submitted the application denied his request, and instead revoked his staff privileges.

Compounding the situation, Chaganti then failed to inform a second hospital that the first had revoked his staff privileges, causing the second hospital to revoke his privileges, as well. Neither hospital allowed Chaganti to appeal the decisions.

The board then filed charges against Chaganti based on the revocations.

Although an Administrative Hearing Commission determined that Chaganti had not intended to deceive the hospitals, and thus, that he did not act unethically, it nevertheless held that the revocations constituted “final disciplinary actions . . . related to unprofessional conduct” and that the board had cause to discipline Chaganti.

Chaganti appealed, and the case eventually went up to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

In his appeal, Chaganti argued that, under Missouri law, an omission of information on a re-application for hospital staff privileges did not, in fact, qualify as a “final disciplinary action” related to unprofessional conduct.

The court agreed and overturned the AHC’s finding in an opinion written by Judge James Walsh.

According to statute, Judge Walsh noted, the board may only discipline Chaganti for “unprofessional conduct” if the revocation of his hospital staff privileges was itself based on unprofessional conduct.

And, under Missouri precedent, licensees may only be charged with unprofessional conduct if their conduct falls within one of several enumerated grounds in the law governing physician discipline.

Lacking an underlying offense worthy of discipline, the board, Walsh concluded, had no lawful basis under the laws cited in its case to charge Chaganti with unprofessional conduct.

Judge Walsh wrote, “We do not find any statutory sections that would put a licensee on notice that his license could be disciplined for ‘unprofessional conduct’ if the licensee inadvertently failed to list hospital affiliations on a reapplication for staff privileges at a hospital or if the licensee inadvertently failed to update information and report to another hospital that another hospital had revoked the licensee’s staff privileges because the licensee had omitted past hospital affiliations on a reapplication for staff privileges.”