MITCHELL COUNTY, Iowa - What would cause a doctor who spent nearly three decades serving a small northern Iowa community to abruptly be terminated during a pandemic?
In court documents filed this week, Mark Haganman, formally employed by MercyOne and working in Mitchell County, said as the COVID-19 pandemic triggered shutdowns and dozens of deaths in Mitchell County, healthcare leaders conspired against him about how to handle the pandemic before he was terminated.
Haganman has filed a lawsuit with 10 claims, including wrongful termination, against Mitchell County Regional Health Center and MercyOne North Iowa.
Mitchell County Regional Health Center issued the following statement:
"The claims in this lawsuit are without merit, and we look forward to defending against them in court."
MercyOne North Iowa, when reached for comment, said it is “not able to provide comment on an active case.” Mitchell County Regional Health Center is an affiliate of MercyOne North Iowa.
In the 40-page document, Haganman claims a board member made jokes online about mask-wearing and a vote regarding how to deal with the pandemic turned private just days before he was fired.
“After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Dr. Haganman led an effort to make safe respiratory evaluation and testing available to the citizens of Mitchell County through a comprehensive initiative developed through the collaboration of key community stakeholders and largely paid for through the philanthropy of Dr. Haganman (the “Provider Plan”),” court documents state.
Haganman claims that Mitchell County Regional Health Center CEO Shelly Russell and physician Benson Hargens “resisted the Provider Plan; and instead, implemented a plan that would benefit Dr. Hargens financially, while violating numerous state laws and public health directives.”
Haganman said that his termination was in retaliation for raising concern that the Russell Plan was in violation of law and not in the public interest. He is being represented by Hartung Schroeder Law Firm out of Des Moines.
Haganman’s attorney, Charlie Wittmack, spoke to KIMT and said his client would like to “go back to work tomorrow. The people have asked for that.”
A petition was started after Haganman’s dismissal to get him back to work. More than 1,000 people signed it.
Wittmack said the lawsuit focuses on “two scandals.”
He said one involved a plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Wittmack said the plan Mitchell County Regional Health Center submitted to the state fire marshal and to the public health department was not the plan that was implemented.
“He called them out and they canned him,” Wittmack said.
Wittmack said Haganman offered to use his off-site location, which Wittmack said Haganman funded himself, to aid in the COVID-19 response. Instead, a plan was implemented to use a location at the hospital.
Haganman's off-site location was eventually used as a TestIowa site.
The other main issue revolves around how Hagaman was terminated, Wittmack said.
“If Mitchell County has a problem with the physician who is on the staff, a formal process has to be followed,” he said.
In November, Mitchell County Regional Health Center released the following statement about Haganman’s dismissal:
“We are fortunate to have a long-standing relationship with MercyOne North Iowa to recruit and provide health care professionals for MCRHC. Dr. Haganman has been an important part of this relationship for many years. We appreciate his years of service and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”
Wittmack said the simplest way to sum up the case is this:
"There is this group of folks that are focused on the science," Wittmack said. "Then there is this other group that is just in denial. It's heartbreaking to look at the numbers."
The lawsuit claims that Mitchell County's COVID-19 infection rate and death rate skyrocketed in the weeks after Haganman's termination.
Infection and death rates throughout northern Iowa did jump late in 2020, not just in Mitchell County.
You can see a graph below of deaths and positive cases in the state related to the virus.
"The outcome he wants is for science to win," Wittmack said. "He has spent his whole life dedicated to serving the people of Mitchell County."
You can see the entire lawsuit below: