A Jackson County jury has awarded a $28.8 million verdict to a former Kansas City area doctor who brought a whistleblower suit against an emergency-room staffing company alleging its policies undermined patient safety.

The jury on Sept. 26 awarded the verdict to Raymond Brovont, 42, of Leawood, Kansas, who formerly worked in emergency rooms at two Healthcare Corporation of America hospitals – Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence and Overland Park Regional Medical Center.

The verdict breaks down to $2,817,045 in economic damages, $6 million in non-economic damages for pain and suffering and $20 million in punitive damages. It wraps up a week-and-a-half-long trial in Independence.

According to Brovont’s attorney, Michael Ketchmark, of Ketchmark & McCreight in Kansas City, Brovont had worked at Overland Park Regional Medical Center since 2012 and at Centerpoint since 2011. He was an employee of MO-1 Medical Services LLC and KS-1 Medical Services PA, subsidiaries of EmCare, a national ER-staffing company, which HCA uses exclusively in its hospitals nationwide.

Brovont sued the subsidiaries after EmCare terminated him in January 2017. He alleged his termination stemmed from concerns he raised about an ER policy at Overland Park Regional Medical Center that required ER doctors to respond elsewhere in the hospital to so-called code blue incidents, or incidents in which a patient needs to be resuscitated.

He alleged that the policy effectively left the ER unstaffed for long periods.

“He thought that wasn’t safe,” Ketchmark said.

Ketchmark said he brought evidence at trial that, from 2015 to 2016, ER doctors left the emergency room 35 times with no doctors remaining there, to respond to such code blue calls.

When the hospital opened a separate pediatric emergency room, Brovont alleged ER doctors were further stretched. He alleged they left the emergency room unstaffed 174 times, either while responding to treat patients in the pediatric emergency room or to handle code blue incidents.

Ketchmark said Brovont complained to administrators at the Overland Park hospital and EmCare, including a written complaint on behalf of 18 ER doctors.

“Every single one of them agreed this was an unsafe situation,” he said.

Four months after Brovont made the complaint, EmCare fired him, saying he failed to fulfill contractual obligations.

Ketchmark said the theme of the trial for the plaintiff was showing publicly traded companies, with a primary focus on profits, are largely replacing locally owned doctor groups in emergency rooms, to the detriment of patient safety 

“I think his story hit home with the jury,” he said. “The jury just responded to the fact you can’t fire someone for complaining about patient safety.”

Ketchmark said at trial, the defendants asked Brovont to point to one person who died because of the policy.

“His response to that was it’s an appalling question,” he said. “Someone doesn’t have to die before it’s unsafe.”

In addition to their arguments that Brovont wasn’t meeting his obligations, the defendants also argued at trial that Brovont already had gotten another job to replace his lost income, Ketchmark said.

Kyle B. Russell of Jackson Lewis in Overland Park represented the two EmCare companies. He declined to comment, referring a request to a spokeswoman for Envision Healthcare, its parent company.

“We appreciate the judge and jury’s work on the case, however we do plan to file an appeal,” Kim Warth, Envision’s vice president of communications, said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for HCA Midwest Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.