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Hospital CEO Resigns After Making Incision During Surgery

The surgeon who allowed the invited guest to make the cut has been fired.

Published: September 3, 2020

Wrong Move WRONG MOVE Former Bristol Regional Medical Center CEO Greg Neal acknowledged his mistake and expressed regret for the incident.

A hospital leader's recent trip to the OR took a troubling turn when the visiting exec was asked to make the first incision on the patient — and actually did. Bristol (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center's CEO Greg Neal was in the room to show support for the surgical team when cardiothoracic surgeon Nathan Smith, MD, extended the inexplicable offer. Both men are no longer employed by Kingsport, Tenn.-based Ballad Health, which owns the medical center.

Mr. Neal issued a statement to the Bristol Herald Courier that acknowledged responsibility for the incident and expressed regret. He said he agreed with Ballad Health's request that he step down, saying he believed it was the right thing to do.

"Recently, at the invitation of a surgeon, I entered an operating room to observe a surgical case and to support our surgical team, as many health system and hospital CEO's do throughout the nation," stated Mr. Neal. "As the case began, the surgeon asked if I would like to make the initial incision for this surgical procedure. I regret I did so." Mr. Neal apologized to the patient and their family, as well as the team members of and leadership of Ballad Health.

Mr. Neal added, "While there was no harm to the patient, my involvement was a clear violation of Ballad Health policy. If the community is to have confidence in their health system, it means everyone — including senior leaders — must be accountable for fulfilling its mission and adhering to the policies intended to protect patients."

Ballad Health's statement revealed that a team member used the system's health compliance process to report the incident. "This makes clear that all team members, including senior leaders, are expected to comply with our policies designed to protect patients," stated Ballad Health. "Our investigation commenced immediately upon notification through our compliance line, and concluded with the actions taken to replace the CEO and separate the physician from employment."

In an intriguing post, an anonymous surgeon laid out the many troubling aspects of this incident. "Why would a surgeon allow a hospital administrator to make an incision on an unknowing patient?" the surgeon asked. "This was clearly unethical and probably illegal. In my 40-plus years as a surgeon, I never heard of anything like this."

Joe Paone

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