Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a world renowned surgeon and academic leader, was unanimously exonerated by a hearing panel that consisted of national liver transplant experts selected by both sides as impartial and knowledgeable in the issues relevant to this case. The hearing on August 5, 2014 was brought about by a Pima County Superior Court ruling designed to rectify administrative maleficence by the University of Arizona Health Network. On March 7, 2014, Judge Carmine Cornelio found that Dr. Gruessner was terminated without the appropriate level of due process that is required for such decisions by state institutions. Specifically, the Judge was not convinced the decision to terminate Dr. Gruessner was reasonable by a preponderance of the evidence and mandated that a fair and impartial panel be assigned by UPH to review their decision.
The most important finding of the Hearing Panel was their opinion that Dr. Gruessner acted reasonably in requesting the database corrections. The University of Arizona Health Network used only one specific case to explain their allegation – one in which it was claimed that Dr. Gruessner removed himself from a case in which the patient died. This idea was strongly rejected by the panel. Dr. Waldrum, CEO of the University of Arizona Health Network, testified that his decision to terminate Dr. Gruessner was not based on a review of the operative report for this case or other records. When these records were reviewed by the Hearing Panel, they easily concluded that “Dr. Gruessner would not aptly be designed the primary surgeon.” The panel also noted that the University of Arizona Health Network did not change any of the database records back after they identified the changes, suggesting a lack of conviction by the University of Arizona Health Network in their core allegations used to justify firing Dr. Gruessner.
It seemed particularly troublesome for the Hearing Panel that almost all those in support of the the University of Arizona Health Network “testified” by reading court transcripts of their March 7 testimonies. In contrast, support of Dr. Gruessner was provided by in-person or live telephone testimony. The panel accepted Dr. Gruessner’s position that the root cause of this controversy was misunderstandings driven by the “charged political rivalry with Dr. Goldschmid”. The Panel felt that these problems could have been readily avoidable with a modicum of good will and trust, which was not provided to Dr. Gruessner. Instead the hearing panel felt that the University of Arizona Health Network appeared to choose avenues that escalated conflict despite their own acknowledgment in his outstanding clinical capabilities and “explosive” growth of transplantation under his prior leadership. Repeated testimony during the hearing pointed to Dr. Goldschmid’s specific culpability in these events. Failure of the University of Arizona Health Network to allow Goldschmid to testify himself seemed to further reinforce this message to the hearing panel. In fact, not allowing Dr. Goldschmid to testify sent as strongly contradictory message to the hearing panel as the failure of UPH to change back the database changes they uncovered.
Regarding Dr. Gruessner’s resignation as the transplant program director, the panel decided that UNOS was required to be notified of this event, Gruessner’s notification did not cause harm to UPH and allegations to the contrary were not cited initially as grounds for termination. Because a hearing designed to follow “due process” must focus on the written notice of reasons for termination, this and all other allegations raised at the hearing against Dr. Gruessner were deemed “unrelated to the issues of the case”.
Based on their determination about wrongful termination, the panel recommended that the University of Arizona Health Network issues a public apology to Dr. Gruessner and that Dr. Gruessner’s reputation be restored as evidenced by immediate reinstatement as a Professor of Surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center.
On September 5, 2014, UPH finally agreed with the panel’s decision that the termination was wrong and offered an apology.