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Local News

Doctor Takes Stand in Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against Cottage Health System, Neurosurgeons

Santa Barbara spinal surgeon Dr. Alan Moelleken claims he was unjustifiably excluded from an on-call list and denied access to patients

Spinal surgeon Dr. Alan Moelleken took the stand again Monday during his anti-trust lawsuit in which he accuses Cottage Health System and the Neurosurgical Associates of Santa Barbara of stifling competition and causing him about $5 million in damages.

Dr. Moelleken, who is trained in neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, has asked Cottage to create a spine-related on-call list or add him to the neurosurgeon list so he could have access to the emergency room and the trauma center’s patients. He has been “consistently, repetitively denied” access, which he claims is a conspiracy between Cottage and the three neurosurgeons who have access to the hospital’s patients.

Cottage Health System is “using its leverage as the only hospital in town to do what is not right,” he said.

On Monday, the 12th day of trial, his cross-examination was continued by Cottage Health System attorney Jeffery LeVee and Barry Cappello, the attorney representing three doctors who formed the Neurosurgical Associates of Santa Barbara — Drs. Thomas Jones, Scott Conner and Richard Chung.

LeVee and Cappello asked about the one time Dr. Moelleken had been included in an on-call list — about 10 years ago, for general orthopedics. He allegedly refused to do certain surgeries and cases if they were outside his spinal specialty and had some difficulty finding a backup.

“Your own orthopedic department had trouble getting you to treat a broken bone,” Cappello said.

After a decade in a specialty without general orthopedic classes or setting bones, Dr. Moelleken said he lost those skills and was “not comfortable with it” at that point in time. He testified that he hasn’t done a nonspinal surgery since arriving in Santa Barbara in 1993.

Most of Monday’s questioning focused on his financial successes during a time he claims being economically injured by the defendants.

Dr. Moelleken owns OSF Medical Group of California, which includes six patient care centers in California, including the local Spine and Orthopedics Center and Santa Barbara Family Practice. He also owns the Carrillo Surgery Center at 401 E. Carrillo St., an ambulatory surgery center with two operating rooms, and has 100 employees between the two entities. He owns the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara care center buildings and rents the rest.

He testified that his personal taxable income is about $1.3 million per year.

Gross receipts, or revenues, more than doubled for the OSF Medical Group from 2004 to 2010 — from $4.5 million to $10.8 million. The surgery center, which opened in 2005, has increased in revenues every year despite the fact that he isn’t getting emergency room patients, LeVee noted.

Dr. Moelleken said the other locations have grown, which don’t rely on the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital emergency room.

“I’m doing fine,” Moelleken testified. “I’m not complaining as to how my business is going.”

He said his beef has always been with the exclusion from the on-call list, which controls access to thousands of patients in the community.

“I was completely locked out of access to patients going through the Cottage emergency department and trauma center,” he said.

Moelleken is scheduled to take the stand again Tuesday afternoon, with testimony starting at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Thomas Anderle’s courtroom in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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