Doctor claims defamation by Portland, Bangor newspapers

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PORTLAND — A Rhode Island podiatrist who previously worked at the veterans hospital in Augusta claims the state’s two largest newspapers wrongly accused him of malpractice. 

In a civil lawsuit filed Jan. 11 in U.S. District Court, Thomas Franchini of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, names as defendants the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News, and national publications USA Today and Investors Business Daily. Also named in the lawsuit are staff writers Edward D. Murphy of the Portland Press Herald and Meg Haskell of the Bangor Daily News. 

Franchini, represented by attorney David Van Dyke of Lewiston, claims reports published about him last October were libelous and damaging, resulting in a loss of employment and future earnings estimated to exceed $3.4 million.

Franchini claims the newspapers did not conduct appropriate inquiry or investigation in the reporting of their stories. He contends he has experienced public shame and unrelenting emotional distress, and seeks a jury trial.

Franchini said the Bangor Daily News story was defamatory because it stated he was forced to leave the hospital and he had “botched” surgical procedures.

He said the Portland Press Herald story, “Maine Veterans Given Substandard Care are Told It’s Too Late to Sue,” was false because it reported Franchini was told to step down or be fired, and states he provided substandard and negligent care for several patients. 

In an email response Monday, Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of MaineToday Media, owner of the Portland Press Herald and The Forecaster, said “Our careful reporting, based on federal court records and documents from the Veteran Affairs Maine Healthcare System, is accurate.”

Bangor Daily News Managing Editor Joyce Murdoch referred questions Tuesday to company President Todd Benoit, who did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. 

USA Today and Investor’s Business Daily published stories about Franchini in October and December, respectively. 

According to the lawsuit, Franchini has worked as a board-certified podiatrist for 27 years, and is licensed in several states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine, where his experience also includes nearly 100 surgeries at Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital.

He said he has conducted or participated in 5,700 surgeries during his career, and has never had hospital or surgical duties revoked or terminated.

However, in the complaint, Franchini does admit he was asked to stop performing surgery at the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Franchini was a staff member of at Togus for nearly six years, from April 2004-November 2010, when he resigned. He participated in or conducted 580 surgeries.

In April 2010, during a review of his note-taking and preparation of medical records, he was criticized for the brevity of his procedure notes, and he was asked to stop performing surgeries, according to the complaint. 

More than two years after he left the hospital in 2010, Franchini concedes, VA Togus accused him of “numerous cases of substandard performance or procedures.” But he claims those allegations were “false and baseless” and have never been validated.

There were neither formal disciplinary charges nor investigations apart from the examination into the brevity of his file of procedure notes, he claims in the suit. 

Between 2010 and 2011, VA Togus raised issues with 25 surgical files representing procedures conducted or participated in by Franchini, according to the lawsuit. All of those procedures were subsequently reviewed by independent podiatrists and found to be appropriate, Franchini claims.

The Forecaster reported on the issue in 2014, with a focus on the experience of  South Portland resident Kenneth “Jake” Myrick, and his tort claim against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The U.S. Army veteran, who served in Kosovo and in the initial invasion of Iraq, sought damages as a result of surgery he had on his left ankle in 2005 and subsequent care he received at Togus, which eventually left him 90 percent disabled.

About 2 1/2 years after Franchini left the hospital in 2010, Myrick, who had been complaining of pain, numbness, a lack of range of motion in his ankle, and knee problems, was re-examined by Dr. James Sang, a podiatrist.

In a report Myrick provided, Sang blamed the lack of success of the ankle reconstruction on “sub-standard performance of the procedure.”

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106., or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

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