Iowa surgeon denies nurse’s claims of manipulated patient-outcome data

By: - May 26, 2022 5:23 pm

A western Iowa surgeon is denying allegations that he provided substandard care for patients and manipulated patient-outcome data. (Photo via Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners)

A western Iowa surgeon is denying allegations that he provided substandard care for patients and manipulated patient-outcome data.

Through his attorney, Dr. Giovanni Ciuffo issued a written statement this week that said the allegations, made in federal court on May 6 by a nurse with whom he once worked, are “outrageous and completely false.” He said he is “confident that the falsity of those allegations will be brought to light through the legal process.”

The allegations are part of a civil lawsuit that Cynthia Tener, a registered nurse, filed against her former employer, MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center, for alleged retaliation in violation of public policy and the federal False Claims Act. Tener was the medical center’s director of the cardiovascular service line until she was fired last fall.

In her lawsuit, she alleges she faced retaliation after raising concerns regarding Ciuffo’s conduct and his treatment of patients – an allegation that Mercy denies.

Ciuffo’s attorney, William J. Hale, says Tener’s claim that Ciuffo would keep patients alive via ventilators, heart pumps and feeding tubes for at least 30 days after surgery to improve his ratings in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ database is demonstrably false. He said a cursory review of the STS website indicates the organization counts all deaths occurring during a hospitalization in which a procedure is performed — even those that occurred more than 30 days after surgery.

As for the allegation that Ciuffo’s mortality rates and other outcomes were in some way out of line with the average, the scoring issued by the STS for Ciuffo’s surgical group indicates that in all categories, the group received a two-star rating, which means the outcomes were “as expected,” Hale said.

According to her lawsuit, Tener was investigated by the medical center for having created “a toxic work environment” after she raised concerns about Ciuffo, and she was placed on suspension on Nov. 3, 2021. Days later, she was fired.

Her lawsuit, alleging retaliatory discharge that is not in the public interest, seeks unspecified damages from MercyOne and its affiliates. The defendants have yet to file a response in the case.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.