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New York doctor sues Avera

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A doctor who moved to Mitchell from New York to work at Avera Queen of Peace is suing the hospital for negligence, fraud and breach of contract.

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According to court documents, Sonia Hernandez was recruited in 2011 to move to Mitchell to open an ophthalmology practice -- a branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye -- as a part of Avera Queen of Peace's system. Her practice was meant to replace a retiring ophthalmologist's practice later that year, court documents say.

Hernandez claims Avera offered her many incentives to move to South Dakota from Brooklyn, N.Y., including receiving her own office, competent staff and equipment. She claims none was provided upon her arrival Aug. 1, 2011.

She didn't begin her practice until Oct. 1, 2011, because the promised items were not available, she claims.

According to court documents, Hernandez complained to Avera about the untrained staff and poor working equipment. She said Avera replaced the equipment and made arrangements to train the staff.

She claims she was also promised financial compensation styled as loans to be forgiven over her employment. Hernandez claims because of Avera's breach of contract and negligence, she is not required to repay the loans.

Avera, in a counterclaim, said Hernandez did not maintain a full-time ophthalmology practice for at least two years, thus breaking the employee agreement. Due to this breach, Avera claims Hernandez owes the full amount of the loans given to her plus interest. There were no available court documents listing the amounts of money being sought by either side.

On Nov. 22, a month after she began practice, Hernandez became ill and was hospitalized, according to court documents. She reportedly informed Avera of the illness immediately and requested paperwork on Dec. 1 to report her extended absence -- her religious beliefs prevented her from receiving a needed blood transfusion, court documents say.

On Dec. 2, Avera requested to speak with Hernandez in person on Dec. 5 -- the date Avera terminated Hernandez's employment and suspended her hospital privileges.

Avera negligently misrepresented the contract offered to and accepted by Hernandez, she claims. She also said Avera committed fraud by promising long-term employment when Avera "was aware that such position was merely experimental in nature and was unlikely to be long-term," according to court documents. She also claims Avera suppressed facts about the employment agreement and long-term commitment to employment.

Hernandez also claims all the hospital's actions were a breach of contract, and a breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

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