I-TEAM: Judge finds top executive at St. Vincent’s knew about complaints against Dr. Heekin

Heekin is accused of botching hundreds of surgeries from 2016 to 2020

A judge has found a top executive at Ascension St. Vincent’s was personally involved in issues at the center of hundreds of lawsuits accusing a surgeon of malpractice— even though the executive claimed under oath that he wasn’t.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge has found a top executive at Ascension St. Vincent’s was personally involved in issues at the center of hundreds of lawsuits accusing a surgeon of malpractice— even though the executive claimed under oath that he wasn’t.

The I-TEAM has been investigating allegations that St. Vincent’s allowed a doctor who was impaired by a progressive neurological condition to continue to operate on patients for years.

Those court documents about what that executive knew were filed last year.

READ: Affidavit of Tom VanOsdol | Order denying St. Vincent’s motion for protective order as to the deposition of Tom VanOsdol

Attorneys for St. Vincent’s tried to protect the executive -- who said in court documents his position is comparable to that of CEO -- from being deposed for those malpractice cases. But a judge ruled that not only would he have to testify, but that his sworn statements don’t appear to be accurate.

When Tom VanOsdol signed an affidavit under oath last year, he was the Senior Vice President Ascension and Ministry Market Executive of Ascension Florida and the Gulf Coast, overseeing medical systems in Pensacola, Mobile, and Jacksonville.

The affidavit was filed in support of a motion seeking to prevent plaintiffs from taking VanOsdol’s deposition as part of the hundreds of medical malpractice cases against St. Vincent’s and former orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Heekin. Heekin is accused of botching hundreds of surgeries at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital from 2016 to 2020. Plaintiffs allege he had a progressive neurological condition that caused problems with his balance, thinking, and speech.

RELATED: Deposition video shows former St. Vincent’s surgeon accused of botching procedures slurring speech, having outbursts | Lawsuits allege Ascension St. Vincent’s knew doctor wasn’t fit to operate, but allowed him to perform surgeries | Legal filings show St. Vincent’s agrees to participate in arbitration proceedings to resolve some claims threatened against hospital, David Heekin

In an affidavit filed last September, VanOsdol writes he is “involved in top-level decision making within the Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast Ministries”... but he is “not involved in the details of the day-to-day operations.” he goes on to say that because of his position, he doesn’t have any unique, personal knowledge of the issues concerning the litigation involving Dr. Heekin.

Attorneys for St. Vincent’s argued VanOsdol shouldn’t be deposed for the cases under Florida’s Apex Doctrine, which protects high-level executives from “harassing, and abusive” depositions for “no legitimate reason” because he didn’t have relevant knowledge of the issues at hand.

But a judge denied their motion, finding VanOsdol received at least one complaint from a doctor about a number of concerning and potentially very poor outcome for patients of Dr. Heekin. He also found he communicated with the chief medical officer about those concerns, but St. Vincent’s never disclosed the existence of texts among them in court.

The judge goes on to say he found VanOsdol was personally involved in dealing with concerns from employees that St. Vincent’s was not responding to complaints about Dr. Heekin.

The judge found that VanOsdol’s affidavit is “lacking in candor and veracity” and “is not plausible on its face”.

“Which of course is tantamount to the judge saying, that some statements VanOsdol made in the affidavit are false,” said attorney Curtis Fallgatter.

Fallgatter is a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in this litigation- he says the signed affidavit could create problems for VanOsdol.

“What’s an oath? An oath is you’re there to tell the truth, and you’re verifying the accuracy of this. So if those elements are met under Florida law, perjury is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison,” Fallgatter said.

VanOsdol has not been accused of or charged with perjury in connection to the affidavit.

VanOsdol is the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Florida Hospital Association, according to its website.

Court records show St. Vincent’s has accepted liability in some of the malpractice lawsuits involving Dr. Heekin, while denying wrongdoing in others.

An attorney for St. Vincent’s declined to comment.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter