Fla. system faces sanctions for destroying records
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.