Fla. sys­tem faces sanc­tions for de­stroy­ing records

Modern Healthcare - - REGIONAL NEWS - —Joe Carl­son

Halifax Health, em­broiled in a high­pro­file whis­tle-blower law­suit al­leg­ing $70 mil­lion in Medi­care fraud, was hit with sanc­tions by a federal judge for de­stroy­ing pa­tient files sought in the case. Pun­ish­ment for what the judge called “rep­re­hen­si­ble” be­hav­ior is likely to cost the hospi­tal hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.

The Day­tona Beach, Fla., health sys­tem agreed to pay the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment $85 mil­lion last March to set­tle the first half of the case, which al­leged the sys­tem il­le­gally paid doc­tors to re­fer Medi­care pa­tients for treat­ment. Set­tle­ment talks for the sec­ond phase of the case are on­go­ing be­tween the hospi­tal and Elin Bak­lid-Kunz, the whis­tle-blower who still works at Halifax as physi­cian ser­vices di­rec­tor.

Full records are crit­i­cal to de­ter­min­ing whether the hospi­tal was il­le­gally ad­mit­ting Medi­care pa­tients for ex­pen­sive short-stay hospi­tal care in­stead of treat­ing them in cheaper out­pa­tient set­tings. Halifax was or­dered sev­eral times to turn over the records, which it should have re­tained un­der a De­cem­ber 2009 court or­der, ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary by U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Thomas Smith.

In­stead, hospi­tal lawyers de­layed ac­tion and then turned over in­com­plete and some­times-il­leg­i­ble records, the judge con­cluded. In De­cem­ber 2013, Halifax lawyers ad­mit­ted that the sys­tem in 2012 had de­stroyed all records cov­er­ing short in­pa­tient stays be­tween 2002 and 2004, the years when many of the al­legedly il­le­gal in­pa­tient ad­mis­sions took place.

“Halifax’s con­duct is rep­re­hen­si­ble,” Smith wrote last month. He rec­om­mended that the Or­lando judge over­see­ing the case or­der Halifax to pay at­tor­ney fees ex­pended in try­ing to get the records.

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