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Ginsburg also became an expert in a number of so-called "interventional" procedures by which doctors can treat diseased heart arteries without having to undertake expensive and dangerous open-heart surgery. Among them: angioplasty, in which a tiny balloon at the end of a hair-thin catheter is inflated inside an artery to unblock it; and atherectomy, a similar procedure in which a catheter is used to ream out vessels clogged with plaque. Ginsburg's talent extended to the conceptual level as well: He patented a number of new designs for arterial catheters and then sold them to private medical companies.
"He is brilliant," says one University Hospital employee familiar with the Ginsburg case. "He has some wonderful ideas. He's very, very smart."
Ginsburg didn't come cheap, however. According to UCHSC spokeswoman Bobbi Barrow, Ginsburg was being paid $187,355 per year at the time his privileges at University Hospital were suspended last fall.
(Even though Ginsburg is no longer allowed to practice medicine at University Hospital, he still is earning his full salary. UCHSC is a separate legal entity from the hospital, and Ginsburg's suspension has only affected his hospital privileges, not his status as a University of Colorado employee. A CU spokeswoman says Ginsburg will continue to draw his pay until UCHSC completes its own investigation of the sexual-harassment allegations.)
How the expulsion of Ginsburg, the person specifically hired to run the Cath Lab, has affected the university's cardiovascular program is a matter of debate.
Ginsburg claims that both patients' health and the hospital's research mission have suffered in the wake of his departure. "Prior to my suspension, my patients enjoyed the benefit of my unique and specialized skills," he wrote in a court affidavit. "My patients are exposed to real and immediate physical harm because I am barred from treating them." Several important programs and research projects at the Cath Lab, Ginsburg wrote, have been shut down in his absence, simply because he is the only one qualified to administer them.
University Hospital sharply disputes those claims. According to affidavits from UCHSC cardiologists Dimitri Kaufman and Bertron Groves and senior hospital officials, neither patient care nor research has been adversely affected by Ginsburg's removal. "I know of no situation in which a patient of Dr. Ginsburg has received inappropriate care," Kaufman wrote. Joyce Cashman, the hospital's chief operating officer, gave a sworn statement in which she averred that giving Ginsburg his job back might actually cause harm to patients by increasing stress in the Cath Lab. "It is my opinion that employee morale would suffer and that there could be a decreased ability to provide high-quality, safe patient care," Cashman wrote.
The lone voice of support for Ginsburg at CU has come from Michael Bristow, the cardiology chief.
"The Cath Lab has a substantially reduced ability to perform interventional procedures in Dr. Ginsburg's absence, particularly in complex or life-threatening cases," Bristow wrote in a court affidavit. The university's "Lifelink" hypothermic program has been "seriously compromised" by Ginsburg's departure, Bristow noted, and academic research at the Cath Lab "effectively ended" when Ginsburg left.
Bristow is a longtime associate of Ginsburg's. The pair worked closely together at Stanford in the early 1980s before Bristow moved to the University of Utah. And Bristow actually was the one who recruited Ginsburg to UCHSC, convincing him to move to Colorado shortly after Bristow's own arrival at the medical school.
One of the reasons nurses at the Cath Lab are so tight-lipped about the Ginsburg case is that they fear Bristow, says the University Hospital employee familiar with the case. Bristow and Ginsburg are "so tight" that nurses believe Bristow might somehow retaliate against them if they talk about the case, says the employee. "He's who everybody is afraid of. He wields a lot of power."
During Ginsburg's tenure at the hospital, Bristow shrugged off informal complaints of sexual harassment that were brought to him by nurses and others, the employee claims. "The attitude from Bristow [about Ginsburg] was: `That's just him; you have to just live with it,'" the employee says.
According to Bristow's wife, the doctor has been out of town for the last few weeks and is unavailable for comment.
"What you've got here are two very brilliant men who have a lot to offer," says the hospital employee. "But what's going to be tolerated in the world? Does the world have to put up with being treated like dirt just because [Ginsburg's] so talented?"
The first sign that Robert Ginsburg had a problem interacting with female colleagues came in December 1992. According to court records, George Thomas, a UCHSC administrator, received an informal complaint from two university employees about "sexually-harassing behavior" from Ginsburg. The nature of the behavior is not specified.
Thomas forwarded the complaint to Dr. Richard Krugman, dean of the medical school. Krugman, who was interviewed by a special, five-member committee investigating Ginsburg last year, testified that he called the cardiologist into his office, informed him of the university's policy on sexual harassment and told him to "shape up or there'll be problems."
Ginsburg, Krugman told the committee, was highly embarrassed. "I remember him saying, `I can't believe I've only been here a short time and I'm already called down to the dean's office,'" Krugman said.