Federal Government Joins Lawsuit Against Wheeling Hospital

VIOLI

WHEELING — The federal government has joined a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Wheeling Hospital.

The suit, which was unsealed Friday, alleges that the hospital improperly paid millions in kickbacks to doctors. It was filed by Wheeling Hospital’s former Executive Vice President Louis Longo who said the hospital, under the direction of CEO Ronald Violi and the hospital’s contracted management consultant V & R Associates Ltd., provided compensation to a number of employed and contracted physicians that was well above fair market value in order to gain referrals.

“Improper financial arrangements between hospitals and physicians threaten patient safety because they can influence the type and amount of health care that is provided,” said Assistant Attorney General Joseph H. Hunt, of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, in a prepared statement. “The department is committed to eliminating improper inducements that can corrupt the integrity of physician decision-making.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania under seal in December 2017 through Phillips & Cohen LLP. The suit claims that some physicians were compensated more than $1 million per year, in violation of the Stark Law, which prohibits referrals based on improper financial relationships between doctors of Medicare patients and hospitals; the Anti-Kickback Statute; and the False Claims Act. By allegedly overcompensating the doctors, the hospital defrauded Medicare and Medicaid of millions of dollars since 2008, the suit alleges.

Heidi Porter, Wheeling Hospital’s vice president of hospital and regulatory affairs, called the lawsuit “baseless” in a prepared statement released Friday evening.

“The complaint brought today is entirely without merit and an unfair attack on the dedicated physicians of Wheeling Hospital,” Porter said. “We believe this lawsuit stems from the personal vendetta of a disgruntled former employee and are confident that Wheeling has not defrauded the U.S. government in any way.

“For nearly 170 years, we have provided world-class health care to a community that too often is not afforded the quality services it deserves,” Porter said. “Wheeling Hospital is a charitable nonprofit and the region’s largest employer of West Virginians. We will thoroughly defend these baseless claims, while remaining fully committed to serving the good people of the Northern Panhandle every single day.”

A statement issued by Phillips & Cohen said Wheeling Hospital engaged in the scheme as part of a plan to gain “monopolistic power and dominating market share” in the Ohio Valley.

By intervening in the case, the federal government is saying it will act as a prosecuting party.

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