Judge: Doctor can't piggy-back on nursing home's arbitration in overfeeding death

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An Arkansas judge has sided with a local nursing facility, which contends its former medical director may not piggy-back on the facility's ability to arbitrate legal claims.

The quarrel dates back to June 2015, when Johnnie Mae Williams was admitted to the Heritage Square Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Blytheville, AR. Just five days after her admission, she died, due to overfeeding.

In those few days in between, Heritage Square employees called Gerald Stipanuk, M.D. — who was both Williams' primary care doctor, as well as medical director of the home — to ask for his guidance. The doctor told them to continue feeding her as directed. She was subsequently taken to the emergency room, where she died, according to the court's legal opinion, filed last week in the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

The resident's estate subsequently sued both Heritage Square and Stipanuk in September 2016, claiming medical malpractice against both.

Heritage Square sought to settle the case through arbitration in March 2017, and the doctor aimed to join that motion in his capacity as medical director. The nursing home, however, fought the attempt, saying Stipanuk is an independent contractor of the facility.

Judge Raymond Abramson sided with the nursing home last week, allowing the estate to pursue legal action against the former medical director in his capacity as her primary care physician.

“The claims did not relate to the validity, interpretation or performance of the resident admission agreement, or healthcare or services provided by Heritage Square. Accordingly, allowing the Estate to sue Dr. Stipanuk in court would not eviscerate the arbitration agreement,” the judge wrote.

A spokeswoman for Heritage Square declined to comment, and Stipanuk's attorney could not immediately be reached Friday afternoon.