The investigation into the clinic scandal at the Friedrichshafen Clinic, which is part of the Bodensee Medical Campus (MCB), could take years. On the night of December 1, 2023, the former senior and emergency doctor Elke K. committed suicide at the age of 47 because her criticism of the clinic’s poor quality of medical treatment had not been listened to by the hospital management for years. According to the doctor’s notes, the patient’s well-being has been repeatedly endangered since 2021.
At the center of the allegations is the cardiologist and clinic director Professor Jochen Wöhrle, who is currently suspending his position as medical director. After his appointment in 2019, Wöhrle followed the wishes of the clinic management and expanded interventional cardiology in Friedrichshafen. The expansion of the range of services should increase revenue significantly because the treatment of complicated illnesses changes the “case mix” (CM) and the clinics are reimbursed for higher treatment costs.
The clinic is 95 percent owned by the city of Friedrichshafen, and the chairman of the supervisory board is the non-party mayor Andreas Brand. In 2023, the annual loss of the MCB clinic network was around 16 million euros. Income from the legally dependent Zeppelin Foundation makes it a little easier for the city to offset the high losses.
Was the care of emergency patients neglected?
According to information from this newspaper, the allegations made by the deceased doctor essentially comprise three complexes: The medical staff is said to have not been sufficiently experienced for demanding procedures in interventional cardiology. The care of emergency patients is said to have been neglected in favor of cardiology patients. For demanding cardiac catheter procedures – the installation of “Mitraclips” or “Impella” cardiac support pumps from Abiomed, for example – Friedrichshafen lacked the necessary medical ecosystem in the event of complications.
In fact, there is no cardiac surgery and no way to provide patients with ECMO, a heart-lung machine. Such a medical environment is not required by law. In such cases, the patients would have to be transferred, for example, to the heart centers at the university hospitals in Ulm or Freiburg.
The clinic rejects the allegations. The law firm Feigen Graf has been commissioned to clarify the matter and is expected to process the events by the end of March. A report from a cardiologist from Leipzig is available to clarify possible treatment errors. At the same time, the Friedrichshafen police set up an investigation team, and the Ravensburg public prosecutor’s office is conducting preliminary investigations.
There were several deaths
Detlef Kröger, the lawyer for the deceased doctor, expects the investigation process to be lengthy and does not rule out consequences for those responsible: “If the public in Germany is informed about the serious cases, nothing will be able to be covered up in Friedrichshafen. Then a picture of horror will emerge,” Kröger told the FAZ
It would then have to be discussed about several deaths that could be related to the mismanagement at the clinic. These cases could be reconstructed. “There are several cases that can be examined through medical reports and for which medical responsibility must be asked.”
Johanna Kuroczik Published/Updated: Recommendations: 7 Published/Updated: Recommendations: 11 Christian Geinitz, Berlin Published/Updated: Recommendations: 5
Behind similar problems in many hospitals there is also a political structural problem that Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) is trying to resolve with his reform. Hospitals that provide basic, standard or central care are often unable to finance themselves sufficiently with flat rates per case. Under pressure from the providers, they then try to develop additional sources of income through special services that are normally provided at maximum care centers or university hospitals. For this purpose, renowned university physicians are often appointed to senior medical positions.
As a result, income increases quickly, but nursing staff and assistant doctors are often not adequately prepared and there is also a lack of technology. Smaller hospitals do not have internal error correction processes for such demanding procedures. There is a lack of specialized departments to ensure the quality of treatment. And for political reasons, such clinics do not enter into collaborations with other clinics.