Sept. 21, 2002 – When the Juan F. Luis Hospital Board of Trustees meets on Wednesday to deal with a controversy involving Dr. Walter H. Gardiner, it will do so with the knowledge that the hospital medical staff has publicly endorsed the reinstatement of hemodialysis privileges to the St. Croix nephrologist, or kidney disease specialist.
The staff "strongly supports the reinstatement of hemodialysis privileges" for Gardiner, the medical staff said in a statement issued this week. And it "equally supports the current director of the hemodialysis unit, Dr. Charles Perez."
The hospital board voted recently to reinstate Gardiner's privileges, which had been suspended in 1997, but after protests from unit staff and patients, it agreed to put the matter on hold until Wednesday's meeting.
The statement signed by Dr. Michael Potts, president of the hospital medical staff, said the staff "is deeply disturbed over the media circus related to the hemodialysis unit. However, our greatest concern relates to patient care. That the recent events progressed to a stoppage and delay in dialysis is not acceptable."
The current situation, the statement said, is that Perez remains the unit director, and Gardiner "has been granted privileges to dialyze his private patients" at the hospital. Further, it said, "Current dialysis patients will be afforded a choice of nephrologist to administer hemodialysis," but Perez as unit director "is responsible for policies, procedures and protocols related to dialysis in order to ensure uniform, safe treatment of all dialysis patients."
On Sept. 6 and Sept. 9, after being notified by the hospital administration that Gardiner's privileges to dialyze patients had been reinstated, some unit employees and patients protested, forcing the hospital to halt dialysis services. Unit head nurse Lorna Davis submitted her resignation, but the board declined to accept it. On Sept. 9, at the request of the hospital board, the staff returned to work with the promise that Gardiner's return to the unit would be on hold until Wednesday's meeting.
On Sept. 11, Gardiner held a press conference where he accused Raymond "Usie" Richards, an aide to Sen. Adelbert Bryan and a candidate for the Senate, of seeking to discredit him for political purposes. See "Dialysis doctor: Candidate's attack political".
Richards distributed a four-page statement relating to dialysis centers Gardiner had operated on the mainland before coming to the territory. The medical staff statement issued this week said: "Despite implications to the contrary, temporary loss of certification of some of Dr. Gardiner's facilities in Tennessee several years ago is not a reflection of his abilities or expertise as a nephrologist, nor his capabilities in performing dialysis."
The statement pointed out: "The Hospital Board of Trustees is responsible for the reinstatement of privileges. The Medical Executive Committee via the Credentials Committee is responsible for reviewing and approving the credentials of Dr. Gardiner and all physicians within the hospital."
Gardiner was hired by former hospital CEO George McCoy in 1995. Gardiner said at his press conference that McCoy brought him on board to upgrade dialysis unit services to comply with Medicare standards, and that under his direction the unit was certified within the year. He said he was removed because of staff and patient complaints about his "callous" treatment of patients, that he had chosen over the years not to respond to rumors and that his objective has always been to ensure quality patient care.
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