U.S. intervenes in whistleblower suit against Georgia medical facility and doctor

May 5, 2010  |  Class Actions, Whistleblower/Qui Tam

The federal government has decided to intervene in a False Claims Act suit alleging Medicare and Medicaid fraud against Satilla Health Services Inc., dba Satilla Regional Medical Center, and Dr. Najam Azmat, of Waycross, Georgia.

The lawsuit alleges that the medical providers submitted claims for payment to Medicare and Medicaid for medical procedures that Dr. Azmat performed at Satilla’s Heart Center, even though the doctor was not qualified to perform the operations.  At least one patient died after the procedure and other patients received serious injuries.  The medical center is alleged to have put Dr. Azmat on staff despite its knowledge that the doctor’s surgical privileges had been restricted by the hospital where he previously worked because the rate of complications on his surgical procedures was so high.  In addition, alleges the complaint, Satilla management permitted Azmat to perform highly complex endovascular procedures at the hospital even though the physician had insufficient experience in performing them.  Endovascular surgery , which requires specialized training, is performed in the body’s arteries and veins.  According to the complaint, one patient died during surgery after Dr. Azmat perforated her renal artery and she bled to death. The physician allegedly was so incompetent that he did not recognize the perforated artery and neglected to remedy the complication.

The nurses at Satilla’s Heart Center knew that Dr. Azmat was incompetent to do endovascular surgery, according to the complaint, and repeatedly voiced their concerns to hospital management. Still, Satilla’s management persisted in allowing the procedures to go forward and in billing Medicare and Medicaid for the services.  Ultimately, one of the nurses, Lana Rogers, filed a whistleblower complaint under the federal False Claims Act to put an end to the misconduct.  The Qui Tam provisions of that statute allow a private citizen to file suit on the government’s behalf and to share in the proceeds of any recovery.  When the government intervenes, as in this case, the whistleblower receives a smaller portion of the recovery, but the government’s participation is beneficial for prosecution of the claim.  If the U.S. declines to intervene, the whistleblower is forced to maintain the action without the government’s assistance, but the whistleblower’s share of the proceeds is higher.

For the full story, go to the Department of Justice’s press release.

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