Former Lake City doctor alleges retaliation for speaking out about patient safety

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A doctor formerly employed in Lake City is suing Mayo Clinic Health System for alleged retaliation and defamation after he raised concerns about changes to the way services are delivered at the medical center.

John Renelt said he was denied a promotion and threatened with termination following a Jan. 18, 2016, exchange with administrators and the local Board of Trustees warning of patient safety due to reductions in off-hour emergency services and plans to replace emergency room physicians with nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Renelt also said he and other Lake City physicians were paid a lower hourly rate for some services compared to neighboring Mayo Clinic Health System locations because of their repeated opposition to the changes, according to the suit filed Feb. 2 in Goodhue County District Court.

Steps were taken starting in 2014 to reduce services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Lake City and shift them to other Mayo-affiliated clinics for financial reasons, according to the lawsuit. Renelt said he resigned from the health system in summer 2016 because working under the new conditions would expose patients to potential harm.

"(Administrators) basically said this is the Mayo way of doing it, and it's the only way it's going to be done," Renelt said in a phone interview Thursday. He and other physicians felt the changes could lead to medication and treatment mistakes from multiple patient handoffs between providers, among other critiques.

He is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 for lost wages, damage to his professional reputation and emotional distress.

A spokeswoman said Mayo Clinic Health System denies the allegations brought up in the lawsuit.

"While we cannot discuss the details of this pending litigation or respond to specific allegations, we want to assure our patients and the Lake City community that they have and continue to receive safe, high-quality care at Mayo Clinic Health System in Lake City," according to a statement.

The suit comes at a time of transition for Lake City and other campuses in Mayo Clinic Health System, a network of dozens of clinics and hospitals including Red Wing and Cannon Falls.

Local clinics have been moving to a team-based care model designed to leverage resources and providers across the system and at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The Lake City emergency department also is scheduled to undergo a remodeling this summer, with larger hospital renovation and expansion plans in the works.