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Appeals court to decide whether hospital officials should be sued

By Jessica Priest
Jan. 18, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 17, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.


Some of the plaintiffs'/cardiologists' claims:

Between Sept. 16, 2008 and March 18, 2010, Citizens Medical Center paid its emergency room doctors more than $647,000 in bonuses for referring patients to the chest pain center.

Emergency room doctors did not notify plaintiffs/cardiologists when their patients would come in for treatment, which resulted in at least 10 unnecessary, costly nuclear stress tests and some deaths.

Defendants billed unnecessary medical procedures to the Medicare program.

Citizens Medical Center offered discounted office space and rent to Dr. William Campbell.

Citizens Medical Center employed five cardiologists at a higher salary than those cardiologists earned in private practice.

Some of the defendants' responses:

Citizens Medical Center paid bonuses to emergency room doctors based on the number of patients seen by the physician in the entire department, not just the chest pain center

Claims regarding violations of Medicare were dismissed in a prior case, so no response is necessary, and most claims are barred by a six-year statute of limitations

The U.S. government has not intervened on the case, and although it has known about these complaints for two years, it continues to pay Citizens Medical Center claims.

More investigation is needed to respond to allegations regarding the treatment of the plaintiffs' patients; writing out their medical histories may violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

A higher court will decide whether to dismiss two Citizens Medical Center officials from a lawsuit that claims they were part of a kickback scheme.

Former administrator David Brown and cardiologist Dr. William Campbell appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans after federal Judge Gregg Costa ruled they shouldn't be given immunity.

Costa found immunity is understandable when applied to law enforcement officers who make split-second decisions.

But the False Claims Act, enacted in 1863, discourages fraud against the government. It does not make sense that Brown and Campbell would be immune from an act that encourages whistle-blowers to come forward, Costa wrote in court documents.

Depositions will not be taken in the case until Brown's and Campbell's appeals are resolved.

The three cardiologists who filed the False Claims Act suit against the hospital and hospital officials in 2010 - Drs. Dakshesh Kumar Parikh, Harish Chandna and Ajay Gaalla - are expected to file an appellate brief Feb. 3.

In the meantime, Costa has required both parties to produce documents relevant to the case in what's called the discovery process by Feb. 10.

Attorneys in December sparred over how much paper they should produce.

The three cardiologists wanted the search parameters to be widened while the hospital preferred to take a narrower look.

If the hospital was to search on a computer for documents in which all the requested 110 terms appeared, it would take 10 lawyers working 10-hour days two months, said Penn C. Huston, one of several attorneys representing Citizens Medical Center.

If they aren't what the cardiologists are looking for, "at least we've found the documents that appear to be the most responsive and potentially avoided literally millions of dollars in document review costs."

One of the cardiologists' attorneys, Joshua Romero, of Austin, disagreed the task would take that long.

He could not be reached for comment about the status of the case Friday.

And nearly a year after the case was unsealed in federal court, the U.S. government has not intervened.

Instead, federal officials are monitoring the case to decide whether to intervene.

Although Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment about the case, the office wrote in court documents that it would continue to investigate whether the hospital broke any laws.

Michael Youtt, the lead defense attorney based in Houston, said this case is different from the one the nonprofit, county-run hospital settled in December 2012.

Then, the hospital's insurance company paid $8 million to the three cardiologists, who agreed to give up practicing at 2701 Hospital Drive.

"That case had allegations of discrimination against three individual doctors, and this lawsuit is for recovery essentially on behalf of the government for alleged health care violations," Youtt said.

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