Iowa-licensed surgeon faces new allegations of incompetence

By: - May 4, 2023 4:47 pm

An Iowa-licensed surgeon accused last year of unnecessary surgeries and lying to patients is now facing  charges of professional incompetency. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Board of Medicine)

An Iowa-licensed surgeon accused last year of unnecessary surgeries and lying to patients is now facing charges of professional incompetence.

The Iowa Board of Medicine alleges Dr. Giovanni Ciuffo, formerly of Sioux City, is guilty of professional incompetence, engaging in a practice that is harmful or detrimental to the public, and knowingly making misleading or untrue representations in the practice of medicine.

The board says Ciuffo, the former director for cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center, is an Iowa-licensed physician who practiced cardiothoracic surgery in Sioux City during “the time period relevant to these allegations” – although the board has not publicly disclosed what that time period is.

All of the alleged conduct that gave rise to the charges is being withheld from public disclosure pursuant to a 2021 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that requires licensing boards to keep such information confidential until a case is resolved.

In May 2022, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that Ciuffo was referenced in a federal civil lawsuit that alleged he had provided substandard care for patients and manipulated patient-outcome data at MercyOne. Through his attorney, Ciuffo said then that the allegations made against him in that lawsuit were “outrageous and completely false.”

The claims were part of a lawsuit filed by Cynthia Tener, a registered nurse, against her former employer, MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center. Tener, who was the medical center’s director of the cardiovascular service line, alleged retaliation in violation of public policy and the federal False Claims Act.

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

Ciuffo was accused of keeping 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 – a charge Ciuffo’s attorney said was demonstrably false.

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.

Tener’s lawsuit was dismissed two months after it was filed, with the judge in the case noting the False Claims Act, under which she sued, allows for claims related to fraud, not malpractice.

“Although the alleged facts are replete with instances of (Tener) reporting potential medical malpractice, there is only one instance of (Tener) reporting concerns about fraud, the subject of the False Claims Act,” the judge ruled.

MercyOne said last year that it stood by its cardiac services program, and its commitment to safe, quality care. “We are dedicated to the fair and valued treatment of our colleagues, physicians and providers as this is central to our values at MercyOne,” the hospital stated.

Shortly after the federal lawsuit was dismissed, Tener filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against MercyOne in state court that is based largely on the same claims made in federal court.

That case, in which Tener alleges Ciuffo performed “unsafe add-on procedures during surgeries” and lied to patients about their expected outcomes and prognoses, is still pending. A jury trial is scheduled for February 2024.

Ciuffo now lives in the state of Nevada and his Iowa medical license is due to expire May 1, 2024.

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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.