He’s a one-of-a-kind neurosurgeon in Southwest Florida for his specialized skill for treating ruptured brain aneurysms. But Dr. Eric Eskioglu isn’t able to practice now to save patients from stroke or death.
A legal dispute with the Lee Memorial Health System over his employment contract and the non-compete clause has held up his plan to start practicing at Physicians Regional Medical Center in Collier County.
Eskioglu, 45, has filed a complaint in Lee County Circuit Court seeking a judge’s order that his Feb. 8, 2006 employment contract with Lee Memorial is not enforceable because it is contrary to public policy due to a shortage of specialists in this field. The public is entitled to access emergency care without excessive travel, among other reasons, according to the Feb. 21 court filing.
At issue is the non-compete clause that prevents him from engaging in a neurosurgical practice within a 50-mile radius of Lee Memorial near downtown Fort Myers for three years after leaving its employment, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
A hearing is scheduled for April 18 before Circuit Court Judge Michael McHugh.
Lee Memorial has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing Eskioglu has failed to include the contract as an exhibit and so his request for declaratory relief should be denied. Eskioglu’s attorney, Denise Wheeler, filed motions for the contract to be held confidential in court.
“Non-competes are a normal and natural part of medical (practices),” said Lee Memorial interim spokeswoman Mary Briggs. “He did sign one of those. It is our position that it is valid and we have filed a motion to dismiss his complaint.”
Eskioglu could not be reached for comment. His attorney also could not be reached.
Shortly after he joined Lee Memorial to perform general neurosurgery services, including trauma care, his practice evolved rapidly to focused on specialty procedures.
His court complaint said he is one of 30 neurosurgeons in the United States trained in a minimally invasive surgery, coil embolization, for treating ruptured or emergent brain aneurysms. He is the only one in Southwest Florida who does the procedure.
The approach involves a catheter through the femoral artery in the leg and tiny platinum coils are threaded through the catheter and deployed into the brain aneurysm. The procedure also is done by interventional neuroradiologists.
Eskioglu’s complaint also said he is the only neurosurgeon in the region who can perform brain artery stenting surgery to prevent stroke, and the only one who can perform brain artery bypass surgery.
In January 2007, Lee Memorial unveiled a $4 million surgical suite at its HealthPark Medical Center south of Fort Myers to support Eskioglu and other surgeons. Within two years of joining Lee Memorial, his practice had evolved to focus on the specialty procedures to treat the most critical acute brain patients.
Eskioglu’s court complaint said Lee Memorial didn’t provide him with the clinical support and administrative support to go to the next level. What led him to resign was a decision by employed intensive care physicians, along with six physician assistants, in November 2010 to no longer provide life-saving services to neurovascular patients in the intensive care unit.
“The (hospital system) did nothing to remedy this situation which forced Dr. Eskioglu to take 24/7 calls by himself for the entire month of December and created a situation that was not safe for patient care,” his complaint said.
Eskioglu turned in his resignation and gave 13 weeks’ advance notice. His resignation was effective March 18, 2011.
His next move is to join the staff at Physicians Regional but there is no start date yet, according to Todd Lupton, chief executive officer of the hospital system with campuses at Pine Ridge Road and Collier Boulevard.
Local neurosurgeons and others in the medical community say the legal dispute with Lee Memorial is creating a void for patients who are candidates for the minimally invasive coiling procedure that shouldn’t be.
“I don’t support non-competes for anybody in medicine, especially when you have some skills that are far and few between,” said Dr. Robert Tober, medical director of Collier County EMS and who formerly ran emergency medicine at the NCH Healthcare System for many years.
Dr. Gary Colon, a neurosurgeon in Naples, said he referred patients to Eskioglu when he was at Lee Memorial and it was nice having a neurosurgeon in the area able to the coiling procedure.
Before Eskioglu came to the area, patients with acute brain aneurysms had be sent to Tampa or Miami for the minimally invasive coiling, either by Medflight or ambulance.
“In the meantime we don’t have anyone in the area,” Colon said. “It’s a big deal to do the transfer and the follow-up care. There has been some fall out. It has changed the referral pattern, no question about it. We’ve had to scramble to cover a little bit.”
Lee Memorial’s spokeswoman points out that before Eskioglu came to Southwest Florida, local patients had to travel to Tampa for the minimally invasive procedure.
“We are actively recruiting another endovascular surgeon and that recruiting is going very well,” Briggs said. “We are very committed to this program.”
In his court complaint, Eskioglu’s attorney argues that his contract was for general neurosurgery -- not as a endovascular/cerebrovascular neurosurgeon -- and that he no longer provides the general services. In addition, the majority of his patients are referrals from other physicians and under Florida law “referral sources are not legitimate business interests that can be protected by a restrictive covenant,” his complaint said.
Physicians Regional officials, in the meantime, look forward to when he can join the hospital staff.
“(Dr. Eskioglu) is an incredibly talented physician who provides a very unique medical specialty in our community,” Lupton said in a statement. “He resigned from Lee Memorial in December, and has since selected Physicians Regional Healthcare System where he will continue his extraordinary work. We are honored by this decision, and believe it to be a tremendous opportunity to keep the incredibly innovative healthcare work that he performs here in our community.”
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman