Hospital Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit by Surgeon

Massachusetts General Hospital has agreed to settle a lawsuit for $13 million that was filed by an orthopaedic surgeon who was fired in 2015 and claimed his termination was in retaliation for raising patient safety concerns.

Dr. Dennis Burke, who is now working at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Milton, had worked at MGH for 35 years before he raised “significant patient safety and disclosure concerns internally at MGH and then to regulatory authorities related to the practice of ‘concurrent surgery’ at the institution,” according to a joint statement from Burke and the hospital which was shared internally at the hospital on Thursday morning.

The hospital had argued that Burke was terminated because he “violated the hospital’s confidentiality policies.”

Neither side admits wrongdoing in the case. Burke’s lawyer, Ellen Zucker, told the Business Journal that the lawsuit has resulted in a safer environment for patients far beyond the walls of Mass. General Hospital.

“I think we can look and see that … based on Dr. Burke’s advocacy and that of others, things have changed,” said Zucker, a partner at Burns & Levinson, on Thursday.

Zucker said the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine this year enacted policies to limit and better control under what circumstances surgeons can oversee more than one operation at a time.

“Obviously, Dr. Burke is enormously proud of these changes and the regulatory landscape,” said Zucker. “The credit for that goes to a lot of people…. That sort of groundswell has made it safer for patients to go to the hospital.”

Burke’s disclosure led to a series by the Boston Globe Spotlight team about the dangers of letting surgeons oversee more than one operation at a time. Two months ago, the Globe reported that a judge ordered the hospital to release a 2011 report written by a lawyer hired to investigate its practice of concurrent surgeries.

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