By his own estimate, Dr. Robert Morgan has delivered more than 6,000 babies over his 25-year career as an Indianapolis obstetrician. Many of his patients love him.
But some patients say that he is not only rude and unresponsive, but negligent and incompetent. Susan Spencer reports on the bitter fight over Morgan's reputation. On Dec. 5, 1997, Morgan delivered Robert Rollins. He was born deaf, blind and comatose, and died two and a half months later. His parents, Robert and Lori Rollins, blamed Morgan, who was their obstetrician. Lori Rollins had delivered her prior child by cesarean section. Dr. Morgan said that the C section had not been necessary, and she could have this next child by vaginal delivery. Lori Rollins agreed. She was excited about this prospect, she says.
After a routine pregnancy, the expectant mother entered the hospital. Lori Rollins was given a drug called Pitocin to induce labor. At 3 a.m. nurses told her to begin pushing. Her uterus tore from the pressure. The baby was expelled into her abdomen.
Dr. Morgan, who was getting updates at home, came to the hospital. But Lori Rollins says the doctor didn't perform an emergency cesarean for nearly an hour. By then, the damage from insufficient oxygen had been done. In February the Rollins' baby died.
After consulting with other doctors, the Rollins began to wonder if a vaginal delivery had been a good idea. Given her past C section and the baby's large size (more than 10 pounds), should Dr. Morgan have anticipated problems?
But the Rollins believe that Dr. Morgan's biggest error was much more basic. They say that in the critical minutes after Lori Rollins' uterus ruptured, he wasn't at the hospital. "You need to be at the hospital, immediately available, and he chose not to be," Lori Rollins says.
Morgan, 54, said that he was called in too late, that the nurses made mistakes, and that once he knew the situation, he did all he could. "If I could look her in the eye and say I made a mistake, I would be the first to do it," he says. "I don't believe I made a mistake."
The Rollins began to research Dr. Morgan's career and found that over his career he had received 23 malpractice complaints - more than five times the average. (Today seven are pending, nine were dropped altogether.)
The Rollins didn't only want to sue Morgan. Largely at Lori Rollins' urging, Indiana's Medical Review Board arranged for hearings in December 1999 to decide whether or not to revoke Morgan's license. "I want for him to never practice medicine again," Lori Rollins said at the time.
In six malpractice cases, a medical review panel did find substandard care by Dr. Morgan. He argues, though, that these cases are a tiny percentage of the total number of deliveries he has done.
Morgan's insurance company settled cases three times on his behalf. That left him no way to clear his name in court, he maintains. "I've never been in a situation where I've felt such desperation and aner," he says.
Dr. Morgan has not delivered a baby since March 1998. (He says he voluntarily resigned from his hospital because he was depressed. The hospital where he worked, Community Hospitals in Indianapolis, said it suspended his privileges.)
He misses delivering babies, though. "I loved it," he said last winter as he wistfully looked over pictures of some of the babies he delivered over the years. "I didn't know how much I loved it until it became possible that I couldn't do it."
Many mothers maintain that Morgan is a wonderful doctor. "I have wonderful experiences with him," says Darla Gibson. Morgan delivered her first three children. (Her fourth pregnancy occurred in 1998.)
Several patients liked Morgan's strong belief in low-intervention delivery. He discouraged pain medication in the belief that it interfered with natural childbirth. He also tried very hard to avoid cesareans, often relying on drugs to induce labor. The result: a C section rate of 6 percent, abut a third that of the average obstetrician. Morgan says that this maverick approach that got him into trouble.
Morgan might have been sued less if he had done more C sections, Morgan says. He thinks his refusal to bend annoyed the hospital and poisoned relations with some nurses. Another pro-Morgan patient, Alicia Garrison, says that the obstetrician's strong personality may have played a role in his problems.
In the fall of 1999, with his license in jeopardy, his once-thriving practice dwindled to almost nothing. Morgan was both depressed and financially strapped.
Showing a visitor around his messy, half-finished house last winter, Morgan apologized for the chaos. "You have to understand that I'm embarrassed by the condition of the house," he said. "I started doing some remodeling on this several years ago, and resources had to be dedicated to trying to defend the situation."
He saw the board hearing in December 1999 as his last chance and had created an elaborate statistical presentation to buttress his claims. "I don't believe that factually they can't find anything wrong with the care I administered," he said.
Others maintain that Morgan is misrepresenting his actions: "It's not about his philosophy or his attitude or his maverick way of doing things," said Deputy Attorney General Beth Compton, who represents the state before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board and who argued that Dr. Morgan should lose his license. "It's about what has happened to these patients and their babies."
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