Tenet Healthcare ( THC) could be feeling a little low on Christmas spirit right now. Just this week, Louisiana's top prosecutor told CNN -- for the first time -- that allegations about possible mercy killings at a Tenet-owned hospital in New Orleans are "credible and worth investigating." Meanwhile, a San Diego judge opted to replace a disobedient juror rather than declare a mistrial in a kickback case against the company that has been dragging on for months. And finally, high-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz has asked the Supreme Court to consider a case involving a physician who claims that Tenet retaliated against him for exposing problems with patient care. Dershowitz -- together with both the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and the Association of Trial Lawyers in America -- is seeking a ruling that would protect medical whistleblowers in the future. "This case epitomizes why doctors are afraid to report medical errors and problems," said Larry Huntoon, M.D., chairman of the AAPS Committee to Combat Sham Peer Review. "To bury their own mistakes, hospitals label doctors as 'disruptive' and file trumped-up charges of wrongdoing. Then they count on the 'where there's smoke, there's fire' perception to make the doctor the scapegoat." Tenet has prevailed in the case, filed by reproductive specialist Gil Mileikowsky, so far. Mileikowsky claims that Tenet essentially destroyed his career after he testified that a patient had both fallopian tubes removed -- without her consent -- at one of the company's hospitals. Mileikowsky is among a swelling crowd of physicians who say they have come under attack for exposing problems with hospital care. Tenet declined to comment on the Mileikowsky case. The company's stock inched up 7 cents to $8.09 on Thursday but continues to hover near lows last seen more than a decade ago.
"We believe ... that as more details become available about events at Memorial, the nation will again be reminded of the Terri Schiavo tragedy," the group stated on its Web site last month. "That case centered on a single instance of so-called 'mercy killing.' At Memorial, there may be more than a dozen."
"There's been no indication -- absolutely no indication -- of a hung jury," Villwock says. "The jury continues to ask for certain pieces of the court transcript to be read, and it appears to be going through all of the counts very judiciously. It sounds like they are doing a good job -- which is a good thing." Looking ahead, Tenet could find itself embroiled in a Supreme Court case next. In a press release issued Tuesday, AAPS boasted that it had assembled a "dream team" of doctors and lawyers to fight a potentially precedent-setting case against one of the company's hospitals. For his part, Dershowitz portrayed the case as an important one for the entire country. "Physicians who are entrusted with the care of their patients can see their professional careers destroyed if they dare to challenge a hospital's practices," Dershowtiz said. "When a 'whistle-blowing' physician is retaliated against, it threatens not only the physician's livelihood, but the care of all patients. This is a case, therefore, that affects every patient and potential patient in America." Critics have long accused Tenet of placing corporate profits ahead of patient care. The company has already paid a number of significant fines in the past and continues to seek a global government settlement to resolve the slew of allegations still pending. It has maintained its innocence all along. Get Jim Cramer's picks for 2006.