Case Against Tulsa Surgeon Led To Political Meddling, Legal 'Quagmire'
Editor’s note: This story is the second part of a series about the state’s case against Dr. Steven Anagnost. Read part one here.
By ZIVA BRANSTETTER, The Frontier
Settle the complaint or Dr. Steven Anagnost will probably sue, an assistant attorney general advised staff at the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision during a 2013 meeting.
The board did settle its case against Anagost, prompted by complaints involving 23 former patients. Anagnost sued anyway.
The tangled web of lawsuits and investigations has cost millions in legal fees for the medical board, four Tulsa neurosurgeons and attorneys named in Anagnost’s complaints to the Oklahoma Bar Association.
Dr. Steven Anagnost scrubs for a surgical procedure at the Oklahoma Pain & Wellness Center in Tulsa in August.
BRANDI SIMONS / The Frontier.
The medical board alone spent nearly $600,000 to investigate Anagnost, who said he spent $1 million of his own money on legal fees. During an August hearing in Oklahoma County District Court, more than a dozen attorneys from some of the state’s top law firms represented various parties to the lawsuits.
The case also prompted intervention by two governors, legislative hearings, allegations of witness intimidation and disputes over documents the surgeon “purloined” from the Bar Association.
Anagnost’s former attorney, Barry Smith, summed up the ongoing battle between the surgeon and the state during a legislative hearing in January: “Wherever you are on the scale about Dr. Anagnost, you can’t help but draw the conclusion that the process here failed miserably.”
The state’s allegations against Anagnost are among the most serious it has lodged against a doctor.
Its complaint alleged some patients were left with permanent injuries – including paralysis and one amputation – after Anagnost operated on them.
One patient died Aug. 8, 2008, six days after Anagnost placed a plate in his neck. Anagnost ordered him sent home the day after his surgery though he was coughing and choking, the complaint states.
Another patient experienced breathing problems and died following a similar neck surgery by Anagnost 10 days later, records show.
Several patients thought Anagnost had operated on their spines, only to be told by other surgeons there was no evidence of such operations, according to the complaint filed by the state against Anagnost.
Anagnost has said he is not responsible for any of the injuries or deaths involving his patients and that claims he failed to perform surgeries are also untrue.
“These are all unfortunate outcomes,” he told the medical board in a deposition.
He told one patient who complained of complications that she may have multiple sclerosis and concluded others had unrelated disorders that surfaced after surgery. Some patients were simply in poor health, he said.
Anagnost told The Frontier the Oklahoma medical board’s investigation was sparked by jealous competitors who worked with a state agency to ruin his prosperous practice.
“Their purpose was to exclude Dr. Anagnost from the spinal surgery market in Tulsa,” Anagnost claimed in a lawsuit against four Tulsa neurosurgeons.
Anagnost can no longer perform surgeries and admit patients to Hillcrest Medical Center, a defendant in many of the 45 negligence lawsuits filed in Tulsa District Court against him. He has recently shuttered a 20,000-square-foot surgery center he operated in southeast Tulsa.
A spokeswoman for Hillcrest declined to comment on Anagnost’s case. The hospital has fought attempts by the medical board and patients suing him to gain access to Anagnost’s peer review file and the outcomes of complaints, records show.
Anagnost now practices in Tulsa and treats patients at locations including the Northeastern Health System, a Tahlequah hospital operated by a city authority.
“I’d like to think that I’m my biggest critic. I take this very personally and I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I’ve never done a perfect job on any patient I’ve worked on,” he said.
Anagnost said the board — which investigated him from 2010 through 2013 — was focused merely on finding his “bad outcomes.”
“If you lined up any doctor’s bad outcomes, any doctor would (look bad). The truth is I was busy because I was doing good work.”
A review by The Frontier showed that of 45 negligence lawsuits filed against Anagnost in the past decade, 19 are listed in court records as settled and nine remain pending, as of September.
One patient who filed a complaint and lawsuit against Anagnost, Alyson King, said she was shocked at the outcome of the state’s disciplinary case.
King, a 45-year-old Tulsan, alleges that Anagnost caused permanent neurological injury to her leg and left her with a condition known as foot drop. Her lawsuit states she has frequent pain from the “multiple inappropriate and negligent” surgeries performed by Anagnost.