Surgeon UK ousted has his say in Lexington TV report

A renowned surgeon barred from practicing or teaching at the University of Kentucky for abusive behavior said in a television interview this month that “I think you have to be somewhat of an S.O.B.” to be a good surgeon.

Dr. Paul Kearney also repeated his allegation, made in his whistleblower lawsuit against UK, that he was forced out because he called for an independent audit of the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation, which handles billing for UK doctors and is used for many purposes by UK HealthCare.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the foundation is audited every year and called Kearney’s request “a smoke screen . . . because he’s got 20 years of abusive behavior that’s caught up with him.” Blanton said UK erred by not getting rid of Kearney sooner, reports Miranda Combs of Lexington’s WKYT-TV. “After he asked for that audit, a patient and more staff came forward, questioning yet again Kearney’s professionalism,” Combs reports.

Combs said Blanton gave her a timeline of complaints and actions regarding Kearney dating back to 1992, and Kearney gave her his personnel file with evaluations back to 1988. “He moved up the professional ladder and landed as the head of trauma surgery at UK. But throughout the climb, there was a theme of behavior issues, sprinkled at the end of mostly rave reviews,” Combs reports.

Kearney explained, “If you’re in a trauma situation where there’s life and death, somebody’s dying right in front of you and you’re directing a team, it’s like being in combat. It’s like people are shooting at you. . . . I think you have to be somewhat of an S.O.B. to be a good [surgeon].”

Combs’ video report shows his 2012 evaluation, which called him “indispensable” but said “He has had some issues with staff with allegations of unprofessional behavior.” The evaluation form says Kearney refused to sign it.
In fall 2015, UK banned Kearney from surgery and teaching but kept him on the payroll. “Two independent panels of doctors, his colleagues, sixteen doctors altogether, reached a unanimous conclusion,” Blanton told Combs. “You can’t have a work environment where people are afraid, where they feel like they are going to be abused. . . . Being good with a scalpel is not an excuse to treat people abusively.”
The WKYT video shows Kearney removing a gall bladder at “Surgery on Sunday,” a nonprofit, including some pointed banter among Kearney and the operating-room staff. He says “My assistant’s fat head is in the way” of the camera, and a staffer asks him, “Do we have to do everything for you?” He replies, “Yes, dear. … I’m the doctor.” Introducing that segment, Combs tells her audience, “If Dr. Paul Kearney has a filter, it’s hard to find.”

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