An ailing

Tenet

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hospital is undergoing a transplant.

California's Redding Medical Center, a Tenet facility accused of performing unnecessary heart surgeries, has removed its old CEO and replaced him with one from within its own ranks.

Hal Chilton, who pushed Redding to become Tenet's most profitable facility before scandal reversed the hospital's fortunes late last year, has taken a new job in the company's California regional office. Meanwhile, Candace Markwith -- who spent years at another Tenet facility currently in the headlines -- has been tapped to breathe new life into Redding.

Tenet has also hired a new doctor to resurrect a once-powerful heart center that barely has a pulse. Satyendra Giri, a cardiologist who only seven months ago relocated to head up a heart program at the University of Texas, will be charged with rebuilding the business and reputation of Redding's cardiac unit. Giri replaces Chae Moon, who is suspected of performing a number of unnecessary heart procedures that reeled in huge profits for both Redding and himself.

Since Redding came under fire following an FBI raid last October, Moon has lost access to malpractice insurance and shut down his practice. He remains under investigation by federal authorities.

Meanwhile, Redding has agreed to pay a record-breaking $54 million fine -- and revamp its compliance program -- so that it can limit its punishment and move on. Stephen Newman, a physician who also leads Tenet's California division, pointed to the changes at Redding as signs of progress.

"We are proud that a cardiologist of Dr. Giri's stature will lead our heart program and assemble a new team of cardiac specialists at Redding Medical Center," Newman said in a prepared statement Friday. "Dr. Giri and his new team will reinvigorate and rebuild these essential services at Redding so that people in that area have access to the excellent, compassionate cardiac care they need."

But Jim Moriarty, a Houston attorney representing dozens of Redding patients and survivors, doubts the hospital can recover.

"I hope he's not expecting a lot of business," Moriarty said of Giri. "That program's going nowhere, and that hospital's going nowhere."

Tenet shares barely budged on Friday's news, slipping 2 cents to $14.63 halfway through the session.

Bad Precedent

According to an FBI affidavit, Moon is suspected of performing cardiac surgeries at a "maniacal" pace during his tenure at Redding. Despite his lack of certification in either cardiology or internal medicine, Moon performed more than 35,000 heart catherizations -- quadruple what some doctors perform in an entire career -- in recent years at Redding.

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Up to half of those procedures, including a number of fatal ones, are suspected by some health care authorities of being medically unnecessary. Moreover, several of Moon's peers have told federal authorities that they raised concerns with Redding executives -- including the outgoing Redding CEO -- who did nothing to curtail the doctor's bustling business.

Indeed, Chilton defended Moon when a healthy priest told him that the doctor had ordered unnecessary bypass surgery on him. The priest pointed to a number of outside doctors who had declared him perfectly fine.

"Chilton stated that Moon was very experienced, and that Moon has performed more than 35,000 catherization procedures," the FBI affidavit states. Redding leaders "defended Moon, his diagnosis and his recommendation for surgery."

Just days ago, Tenet dodged questions about whether Chilton might be leaving. The local

Redding Searchlight

raised the possibility after noting that Chilton's $725,000 home was up for sale. Tenet simply told the newspaper that Chilton "is at work today and will be at work tomorrow."

Chilton missed the mark a bit by giving himself more time.

"I will be here tomorrow," he told the newspaper on Wednesday. "I will be here next week."

Chilton is being replaced by the CEO of Tenet's Suburban Medical Center in Paramount, Calif. Before her recent stint at Suburban, Markwith spent four years as operating chief at a Tenet hospital that's been embroiled in a lengthy standoff with its nurses. Since late last year, nurses at Tenet's Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo have been striking -- and leaving the hospital in droves -- over a lack of retirement benefits. At least one former nurse there has also sued Tenet because the hospital allegedly fired her in mid-2002 for reporting threats to patient care.

'Right Person'

On Friday, Tenet pointed to the hospital's former operating chief as an ideal leader.

"She is absolutely the right person to help Redding Medical Center regain its position as a trusted provider of health care in the communities it serves," Newman said.

Both Markwith and her predecessor, Chilton, wound up at Redding after earlier stints at the company's Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, Calif. From 1986 to 1989, Chilton ran both Twin Cities and Tenet's Vista Medical Center -- where he recruited more than 40 doctors -- and left them profitable at a time when most California hospitals were not.

Since then, Tenet has come under fire for its physician recruiting practices. The company has been indicted and remains under investigation for allegedly paying illegal kickbacks to doctors at multiple California hospitals.

Tenet has denied any wrongdoing. But Moriarty, who has scored big settlements against Tenet before, believes the company faces severe punishment.

"The government's only option is to cut the company off from Medicare and Medicaid funding," he said. "I suspect, down the road, that Tenet will be selling all of its hospitals. They owe it to the people ... to let an honest operator come in and take over."