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Powell Valley Healthcare, estate of late surgeon sued for medical negligence

Powell Valley Healthcare and the estate of a surgeon who died nearly a year ago in a plane crash are being sued by a former patient over a 2020 surgery.

Sylvia Hutton, a Cody resident, filed the claim through her lawyers in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming last week. Hutton is suing Powell Valley Healthcare and the estate of the late Dr. Clinton James Devin. The Colorado-based surgeon flew frequently to Cody and Powell to perform surgeries before a fatal December 2021 plane crash.

Hutton alleges that Devin was negligent in the care and treatment he provided to her. She also charges that PVHC was negligent in giving the orthopedic surgeon credentials at the hospital and not having better protocols in place, asserting that other, unnamed patients were injured.

Hutton alleges in the suit that she has suffered permanent nerve damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, permanent impairment and various economic losses, including an inability to work. In a notice of claim Hutton submitted to the hospital over the summer, she indicated she was seeking $7.5 million. 

“We are not yet in receipt of the lawsuit itself, so we can’t comment on the specifics at this time,” said Sara Welling, quality improvement and risk management director for PVHC. “However, we strongly disagree with any allegation that we failed to properly credential any of the physicians involved in the case. PVHC takes great pride in its credentialing process and the physicians we allow to provide care in the community.”

According to the complaint, Hutton underwent a spine fusion surgery on Dec. 17, 2020 and awoke to new leg pain and weakness from a hematoma at the surgical site. She said that Devin returned home to Colorado after the surgery, only learning of the hematoma three days later; he returned to PVHC on Dec. 21, removing the hematoma and readjusting the screw. According to the complaint, Hutton still has pain and limited mobility in her left leg, now walks with a limp and requires “ongoing therapeutic care for her injuries.”

Hutton’s complaint criticizes the techniques and care provided by Devin and alleges that the surgeon “had an unreasonably high complication rate” and caused “multiple patient injuries.” 

“Upon information and belief, PVHC continuously approves these doctors’ privileges because they brought a high number of cases to the hospital, resulting in revenue for the hospital,” alleges a portion of the complaint, filed by attorney Diana Rhodes of Cheyenne and attorneys with Thomas, Keel & Laird in Denver. In the document, the attorneys compare Dr. Devin to former PVHC surgeon Dr. Jeff Hansen, who drew a slew of complaints and malpractice lawsuits before being suspended by PVHC leaders in 2013. The more than two dozen suits filed over Hansen’s surgeries and a subsequent denial of coverage by PVHC’s insurers led the organization to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2018.

“We are surprised about any references to cases that occurred 10 years ago,” Welling said of the allegations in the new suit regarding Dr. Devin’s operation on Hutton. “This case has nothing to do with issues the hospital had with one of its physicians at that time, and the hospital has moved on from its past financial struggles. We look forward to defending this case and may have further comment when appropriate.” 

While the suit describes Devin as having been a liability, the surgeon’s colleagues have spoken highly of him. In March, five physicians — from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, the Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia — penned a tribute in the Journal of Neurosurgery that described Devin as one of the world’s “most accomplished and gifted spine surgeons in the field of orthopedic and neurological surgery.”

Colorado court records were not readily available, but a Wednesday search of Wyoming and federal court cases indicates there’s been one other suit pressed against Devin over the past decade. It was filed in Sweetwater County’s District Court in July by the same attorneys representing Hutton. In that case, they similarly allege that Devin provided substandard spinal surgery and care to a patient and that the Aspen Mountain Medical Center in Rock Springs was negligent in providing the doctor with credentials. The center and Devin’s estate have denied the allegations, with a trial set for March 2024.

PVHC and Devin’s estate will provide a formal answer to Hutton’s suit in the coming weeks.

 (CJ Baker contributed reporting.)

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