University of Kentucky finalizes revocation of clinical privileges of longtime trauma surgeon

Dr. Paul Kearney faced a tribunal in July that voted unanimously to revoke his medical privileges at the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Paul Kearney faced a tribunal in July that voted unanimously to revoke his medical privileges at the University of Kentucky. Herald-Leader

A group of University of Kentucky trustees upheld the proposed revocation of a longtime surgeon's clinical privileges Monday but modified the decision, allowing him access to campus as a tenured professor.

Paul Kearney, a UK trauma surgeon for 27 years, has been suspended since January, after he allegedly verbally abused a patient last fall. UK officials said the incident followed two decades of abusive behavior to colleagues, staff and students.

"In the end, the university has made the difficult but necessary decision to revoke a physician's clinical privileges," President Eli Capilouto said Monday in a written statement. "The conclusion has been unanimous: We will not allow our medical staff, patients and students to be subjected to intolerant and abusive behavior."

Kearney has said the university made him a scapegoat after he raised questions about money and management practices at UK HealthCare. He has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the university, citing a meeting where he questioned Michael Karpf, the executive vice president for health affairs, and said Karpf threatened to fire him.

The health care committee of the UK Board of Trustees rendered its decision Monday morning after a two-hour discussion behind closed doors.

Kearney said he wasn't surprised by the revocation of his clinical privileges and was pleased he would be allowed back in his office. He has not had access to the books or art in his office, and has been shut out of his email. At one point, according to documents in the case, his email was rerouted to the hospital attorney's office.

"It's positive," Kearney said of Monday's decision. "I think the board listened to the evidence that was there. They understood very clearly that the administration's evidence was in many respects untrue. They said I should be part of this university."

Similar to a previous hearing, a large crowd of Kearney supporters came to the Patterson Office Tower to watch the proceedings.

Longtime friends Billy and Jean Warner were among them.

"We believe he's totally innocent; he's getting totally railroaded," Billy Warner said.

Jake Drug is an intensive-care nurse who has worked with Kearney for more than 20 years. He said Kearney was tough but fair to students and colleagues.

"You have to be on your best game when he's around," Drug said. "In medicine, you have to be right 100 percent of the time."

Capilouto noted in his statement that various panels of Kearney's colleagues had recommended he lose his clinical privileges.

"A fair process of review in accordance with the principles of physician self-governance has been completed with respect to Dr. Kearney and his clinical privileges at UK HealthCare," Capilouto said. "That process included four independent panels, comprising 16 UK HealthCare doctors and the health care committee of the board of trustees."

Trustees chairman Keith Gannon also attended the hearing.

"This issue was always related to clinical practice," he said. "We wanted to make sure we clearly made the definition. ... We don't want to infringe on the rights of a tenured faculty member."

It's unclear whether Kearney will be allowed to teach again, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said. That decision will have to be made by the dean of the College of Medicine.

For now, Kearney is being paid $350,000 as a tenured faculty member, and he is in discussions with other hospitals to obtain clinical privileges so he can continue practicing medicine.

The final leg of the revocation process has never occurred in the 50-year history of UK's medical center. After the hearing, Kearney, 61, said that younger medical professionals have been run out of UK and forced to sign confidentiality agreements, but because he is near the end of his career, he would continue fighting.

"This is not over," he said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader