Halifax Health Back in the Hot Seat - Why the Hospital was Hit with Even More Sanctions

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar  in Health Law

Always be wary of asking "could it get any worse?" Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, is proof that a situation always has the possibility of taking a darker turn. On May 27, 2014, the federal judge overseeing the ongoing Halifax
whistleblower/qui tam court cases ruled that the medical center wrongfully destroyed documents and files that were central to the upcoming trial. The trial, slated for July 2014, is the second part of a case against Halifax and will concern allegations of Medicare fraud
for improper inpatient hospital care where the medical need was not documented.

The court titled the medical centers destruction of files as "reprehensible" behavior and ordered Halifax to cover all attorney fees of the plaintiff associated with recovery of the records. According to JD Supra, the total of fees will likely be a six-figure amount.

To read the full article from JD Supra, click here.

You may remember that Halifax Health has been the center of a lawsuit for quite a while now. The whistleblower lawsuit alleged more than a decade of illegal compensations to doctors as well as Medicare fraud. Due to complexity of allegations, the case was split into two trials. The first trial concerned allegations of Halifax violating the federal Stark Law, a law enacted to ensure that patient referrals are made for medical reasons only with no financial motives.

The missing patient files demanded by the court are necessary for the plaintiff second trial.


Now You See Them, Now You Don't.

According to Modern Healthcare, Halifax was ordered by the court numerous times to turnover patient records from the time span during which the alleged fraudulent activities took place. A court ordered record-retention order was issued in December 2009 demanding such files. Halifax attorneys delayed the process and eventually turned over incomplete and illegible records. In December 2013 the defense team finally admitted that in 2012 the center had destroyed all records covering short-term inpatient stays from 2002 to 2004, the time span in which many of the alleged illegal inpatient admissions had taken place. The attorneys argued for Halifax that the records were simply deleted during typical business protocol. It is important to note that the court ordered files referenced by the defense attorneys were deleted prior to the implementation of the Halifax "business protocol policy" of systematically deleting patient records. Full patient records are critical in this specific trial. Without them, it will be nearly impossible for the team of plaintiff attorneys to prove that Halifax was illegally admitting Medicare patients for expensive short-term hospital stays instead of providing cheaper outpatient treatment.

To read more from Modern Healthcare, click here.


The Lowdown on the Halifax Hot Seat.

Halifax Health has had a high-profile whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit on their hands since 2009. It is alleged that the healthcare center racked up $70 million in fraudulent Medicare claims. The first trial ended in March 2014 after Halifax settled by agreeing to pay $85 million to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over the next five years. According to Modern Healthcare, the whistleblower connected to this case received roughly $13 million in the first settlement and she stands to gain a larger share of any money paid in the second trial in recognition of bringing the allegations to light under the False Claims Act.

The second half of the case will cover thousands of allegedly improper Medicare admissions. The DOJ will bow out in this half of the case in which damages could surpass $300 million under the False Claims Act.

Halifax continues to consistently argue its innocence in the claims against them.

To read more on the Halifax record-setting settlement from March, click here for a previous blog.


Don't Give Anyone a Reason to Blow the Whistle on You.

We see quite a number of whistleblower cases among our clients. Whistleblowers not only receive protection in a False Claims Act trial but can also receive a generous portion of recovered damages won in the trial. As a physician or healthcare professional, you are held to a higher standard. Eyes are constantly on you in not only your daily routines but every decision you make in your profession. Know that anyone may be willing to blow the whistle on you over one wrong move. They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Don't leverage your career by banking on the idea that no one is looking.

You are also accountable for those you employ and work alongside. It is vital to your success and career to protect yourself against charges that could ruin your livelihood. Simply instilling a moral code of conduct and implementing a system of checks and balances amongst a team you can trust can be the difference between success and failure. No financial kickback or fraudulent claim is worth losing your hard earned license and career over.


To read more on whistleblower cases, read our two-part blog. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.


Comments?
Do you feel the federal court judge was correct in punishing the hospital for complying with its routine records destruction policies? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.


Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent healthcare professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in healthcare accounting, healthcare financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:


Carlson, Joe."Fla. System Hit With Sanctions For Destroying Files Sought In Lawsuit." Modern Healthcare. (May 28, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140528/NEWS/305289965

Tabler Jr., Norman "Halifax Health Gets In More Hot Water." JD Supra Business Advisor. (May 30, 2014). From: http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/halifax-health-gets-in-more-hot-water-58579/



About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.


Tag Words: defense attorney, defense lawyer, Department of Justice (DOJ), False Claims Act, FCA, Florida Medicare, fraud defense, fraud prevention, fraud schemes, government health programs, Halifax Hospital, legal representation, Medicare, Medicare fraud, Medicare overbilling, qui tam, qui tam attorney, qui tam lawsuit, qui tam lawyer, stark law, Stark Law violations, whistleblower, whistleblower lawsuit, whistleblower lawyer, whistleblower protection, health law firm, The Health Law Firm
 
 
The Health Law Firm" is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. - The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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6/10/2014

Comments:

Response to: Halifax Health Back in the Hot Seat - Why the Hospital was Hit with Even More Sanctions
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Richard Bolt says:

Halifax and it's governing board members and physician leaders have demonstrated a bad culture for over three decades. As you know they and the Volusia County Med Society settled an anti-trust case brought by the DOJ in 1978-79 alleging a community wide boycott of a local HMO. Four years later they were sued by me for the same conduct. The 15 year effort was described by others as a "marathon." The negligent patient care issues that I witnessed were reviewed by surgeons at the U of Florida who testified at each trial and described them to be negligent homicide. I was called antagonistic and disruptive just for having witnessed the bad conduct and care provided by powerful and influential leaders of the medical staff. Board member (the late) Rev Hal Marchman fabricated sworn deposition testimony to support the charges against me and later admitted had been " a mistake." Both trial judges were not coincidentally visiting from the Easter District of Virginia. Both had been app

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