Shared from the 10/7/2015 Hobbs News Sun eEdition

Texas doctors threaten to stop seeing N.M. patients

At issue: Ruling that N.M. patients can sue Texas doctors in N.M. for procedures performed in Texas


Dr. Allen Hurt of Hobbs said a “horrible ruling” threatens health care for New Mexico patients.

New Mexicans who see Texas doctors may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Stemming from several malpractice lawsuits that have elevated to the New Mexico Supreme Court, doctors in Texas have threatened to stop seeing New Mexico patients, according to Randy Marshall, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society.

“Patients from New Mexico filed lawsuits in New Mexico against Texas doctors for procedures that were performed in Texas,” he said. A district court in Albuquerque ruled that New Mexico law applies, not Texas law, even though the medical procedures were performed in Texas, Marshall said. The New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld that ruling and the case was appealed to the state supreme court.

Marshall said the result is that many doctors in Texas have decided that since they do not have liability coverage in New Mexico, they will no longer treat New Mexico patients.

The supreme court has not yet ruled on the case, but accepted “friends of the court” briefs through Tuesday.

Medical societies of both Texas and New Mexico, as well as those of several counties along New Mexico borders filed briefs urging the supreme court to understand the consequences to New Mexicans, Marshall said.

Dr. Allen Hurt, who sees patients at the American Medical Group in Hobbs, understands the concerns of the Texas doctors, but he’s concerned about New Mexico patients.

“It’s common knowledge that southeastern New Mexico has a primary care shortage and it has an even worse specialty shortage,” he said. “As a consequence, many patients from around here have to travel to Texas to get specialty care to keep them well, and sometimes to keep them alive.”

About the original court ruling, Hurt said, “It’s a horrible ruling that should have never happened in the first place.”

If the supreme court upholds the ruling, Hurt explained, it would allow New Mexicans to sue Texas doctors in New Mexico over procedures performed in Texas.

“The doctors in Texas don’t feel they want to have that exposure,” he said. “The malpractice climate in New Mexico is a lot more hostile to health care providers and hospitals than it is in Texas as it is.”

“So these Texas doctors don’t want to be dragged across the state line to defend the work they do in Texas. Their solution is to stop taking care of the New Mexico patients in their practice,” he added.

Dr. John B. Kernan, another Hobbs physician, is one of several local doctors who submitted a written statement to the New Mexico Medical Society in support of the effort.

He discussed a pain management physician in Lubbock who has more than 250 New Mexico patients who will be required to seek other medical care after December.

“This greatly concerns me as a referring physician,” Dr. Kernan stated, “as there are very few doctors in our area who can provide the level of care and have the clinical expertise that is required to treat seriously ill patients.”

Kernan added his concern about Level 1 Trauma Care.

“When it is necessary to transfer a patient for acute critical care, my only option is to utilize Texas Tech University Medical Center,” he said. “We have no fewer than an average of three flights a day taking Lea County residents via helicopter or ambulance to Texas Tech UMC. Without this timely option, the lives of New Mexicans will surely be at risk.”

Deputy Fire Chief Barry Young, speaking for the emergency medical services, said transfers from Lea Regional Medical Center to any Level 1 Trauma Care location is determined by the sending and receiving physicians, but he has a safety rule that limits any transport to 150 miles. The nearest Level 1 Trauma Care unit in New Mexico is in Albuquerque, more than 300 miles away, he said.

Hurt has even larger numbers.

“We have a clinic here and we have a clinic in Carlsbad, and we see 6,000 patients a month,” he said. “From our point of view, what’s going to happen to these people if we can’t send them to Texas? It would be a disaster.”

Marshall agreed. “It just has such a huge impact on patient care. We’re a rural state with a low per capita income,” he said. “We’ve always had problems recruiting physicians and you need a certain population of patients in order to have specialty services. A lot of these services, the only way you can have them is to go over state lines.”

Hurt concluded, “There’s an effort being made by everybody in health care to try to persuade the court that it’s in the best interests of the citizens of New Mexico to stop this from happening.”

Curtis Wynne may be contacted at 575-391-5436 or

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