When the health care committee of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees revoked the clinical privileges of UK surgeon Paul Kearney last month, it also agreed to reverse an administrative ban that prevented the tenured professor from going to campus, speaking with colleagues or accessing his office and work email.
However, UK General Counsel William Thro sent a memo to Kearney's attorney Friday detailing the work of another committee convened by President Eli Capilouto to determine Kearney's status as a tenured medical faculty member without clinical privileges.
In his letter, Thro advised Kearney that Capilouto's committee had decidedthat Kearney may not talk to medical students or residents, attend any public lectures or go to any clinical areas of the university. His office will be moved from Chandler Hospital to the multidisciplinary science building across Rose Street. His $350,000 salary will be reviewed, and if he wishes to consult or work outside of UK, he will have to get approval from the medical school dean.
"To avoid confusion, we should have informed you Monday (Aug. 24) that such a review was underway and that we would communicate the results as soon as possible," Thro wrote.
Kearney's attorney, Bernard Pafunda, responded to the memo by saying it was in "clear contravention of the health care committee's Aug. 24 directive."
"The danger presented here is twofold," Pafunda wrote. "1) Dr. Kearney's tenured status again is being stripped away without due process; and 2) a directive of the board of trustees health care committee is being effectively ignored by reason of administrative fiat from the president."
Pafunda also said the university's previous attempts to remove Kearney from campus were in violation of state and federal laws, which the health care committee had attempted to rectify.
Kearney, who is not teaching any classes this semester, has been suspended from campus since January, when UK began investigating the charge that he called a patient a "f---ing idiot."
Kearney has been at UK for 27 years, and he has won many awards as a trauma surgeon and received multiple reprimands for verbal abuse toward colleagues and staff. He said he is being railroaded out of the university because he has questioned financial decisions made by Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president of health affairs.
He has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the university, citing a meeting at which he questioned Karpf and Karpf allegedly threatened to fire him.
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Kearney's interaction with medical employees was being restricted because of possible concerns that might arise from agencies that accredit the hospital.
"The explicit determination that Dr. Kearney is unfit to perform the duties of a clinician raises significant concerns regarding any interaction with house staff," Blanton said in a statement. "The president decided (in consultation with the dean of the college, the chief medical officer and the chair of surgery) that the university will exercise extraordinary care to avoid any circumstances that might raise questions from our accreditors."
Any steps to revoke Kearney's tenure would have to be taken by UK provost Tim Tracy. According to UK bylaws, tenured employees may be dismissed "only for reasons of incompetence, neglect of or refusal to perform duties."
Davy Jones, a UK professor who supports Kearney, said the trustees recognized that Kearney's campus ban went too far, and that's why they reversed it.
"The much-appreciated board expression of good will to the faculty to protect their academic standing and their trust in board-established process is being thwarted by an apparently indifferent president," he said.