Photo by John Schreiber.

A former Harbor-UCLA Medical Center physician who said he was wrongfully fired in 2018 for exposing alleged wrongdoing in the treatment of patients was awarded $2.1 million Tuesday in his lawsuit against Los Angeles County.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury had deliberated since late Thursday afternoon in the lawsuit brought by Dr. Timothy Ryan, agreeing he was a victim of retaliation under the False Claims Act, but not as a whistleblower. His damages were limited to his suffering of emotional distress.

Ryan is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. He began serving in 2013 as the staff vascular surgeon at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which is owned and managed by the county. He testified during trial that the county allowed a group of doctors to “run roughshod over me and make every day harder than it had to be … to the point I could not do my job.”

In response to his exposing of alleged wrongdoing, the county “didn’t do the slightest investigation to see if what I said had merit,” Ryan testified.

In their court papers, lawyers for the county state that Ryan was discharged because his medical staff privileges had lapsed.

According to Ryan’s suit, he was asked in 2014 to take part in what he believed to be an unnecessary surgery on a patient for the benefit of a third-party medical device maker. Dr. Rodney White asked Ryan to take part in the procedure, but Ryan refused in the belief it would have required him to “conspire to perform a medically unnecessary surgery,” according to the complaint.

Although the patient was treated in 2013 with drugs and allowed to go home after she no longer had symptoms, Ryan believes White and his subordinates convinced the woman to check into the hospital emergency room and falsely report she had chest pains, the suit alleges.

The surgery went ahead after the woman was talked into signing a consent form, the suit alleges. While undergoing the procedure, she suffered complications that resulted in her having problems communicating orally and in writing, according to the plaintiff.

Ryan reported his concerns about the treatment of the patient and other alleged compromises of patient care to the hospital’s senior faculty, the California Medical Board and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the suit states.

White, along with others, began retaliating against Ryan in June 2014 by not referring cases to him, marginalizing the plaintiff within his department, removing his name from a research project and filing a “frivolous” lawsuit against him in July 2015, Ryan’s suit alleges.

Ryan, who was fired in October 2018, alleges the hospital knew he was being subjected to a backlash for coming forward with his concerns about patient care, but failed to protect him. He testified Tuesday that the retaliation began as soon as he came forward with his concerns.

Ryan has suffered a loss of referrals and has been unable to advance his career since his firing, according to his suit.

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