SELMA, Ala. (WSFA) - A west Alabama hospital and two of its emergency room physicians have agreed to pay a nearly $1.5 million settlement to resolve allegations they violated the federal False Claims Act.
U.S. Attorney Richard W. Moore, of the Southern District of Alabama, said Vaughan Regional Medical Center, located in Selma, as well as ER physicians Dr. Phillip Alan Hicks and Dr. Sai S. Namburu, agreed to the settlement.
Hicks, the hospital’s former chief of staff and director of emergency services, also owned and operated Integrity Emergency Care, Inc., also named as a defendant in the settlement.
A whistleblower lawsuit filed by Dr. Samuel Clemmons is what started the investigation.
In his suit, Clemmons claimed Vaughan was allowing residents who were not fully licensed to independently cover shifts in the hospital’s emergency room. He said when he complained about the illegal practice, no actions were taken to address the issue.
An investigation determined that between 2009 and 2012, the hospital recruited residents from the UAB-Selma Family Medicine Residency Program to independently treat patients in Vaughan’s ER Department outside the course and scope of their residency program.
The investigation found that despite the residents not being fully licensed and credentialed physicians, they were paid $50 per hour cash, along with licensed emergency room physicians who were also paid an extra $50 per hour to co-sign the residents’ charts.
Moore’s office said the illegal moonlighting was perpetuated by falsifying medical records and submitting false claims to Medicare as if the services were provided by licensed physicians.
“The citizens of the Selma community are entitled to quality healthcare administered by fully licensed physicians, and actions taken to put patient care in jeopardy and to circumvent state and federal law will not be tolerated,” Moore added.
Clemmons will get $275,000 of the settlement for blowing the whistle on the situation.
WSFA 12 News reached out to the CEO of Vaughan Regional Medical Center, David McCormack, for comment and were sent this statement:
“Vaughan disputes the allegations in the lawsuit and the government’s investigation and believes that it has acted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations pertaining to its Emergency Department at all relevant times. The portion of the settlement paid by Vaughan stems from alleged conduct by a third-party staffing company whose contractual relationship with Vaughan ended in 2012. The decision to enter into the settlement agreement is based solely on Vaughan’s desire to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation and to allow Vaughan to focus on its mission of serving the healthcare needs of the residents of Selma and surrounding communities.”