Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers took note of a whistleblower lawsuit filed recently in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a surgeon and a former hospital executive alleging an egregious series of practices involving several physicians at Rush University Medical Center’s orthopedic department. The conduct described in the suit, involving overbooking of physician schedules and allowing residents to perform surgeries unsupervised, is not only places patient safety at risk, but also amounts to Medicare fraud.
The most salacious allegations of the suit concern the failure to supervise residents and junior surgeons in the performance of orthopedic surgeries. Federal Medicare billing rules require surgeons to be present, at the very least, at certain critical portions of surgeries, to carefully oversee residents conducting procedures, and to be immediately available at all times during surgery, if needed. The suit alleges, however, that although Medicare was billed for surgeries, Rush physicians often did not follow these rules.
If the allegations are true, the surgeons provided little if any oversight of residents during procedures. In some cases, no oversight at all was provided, with a qualified surgeon never even entering the operating room. In others, clearly inappropriate oversight was given, with surgeons engaging in such dangerous practices as “supervising” residents’ surgical procedures via video – while performing their own orthopedic surgeries in other operating rooms. Such practices, regardless of whether or not they comply with Medicare regulations, place patients at unreasonable risk for catastrophic injury or wrongful death at the surgical table.
The lawsuit paints Rush University Medical Center, or at least some of the physicians in its orthopedic department, as placing profitability over patient safety – emphasizing quantity over quality and putting patients at risk in order to create a higher profile, and higher cashflows. The original lawsuit also included allegations of improper referral practices, including allowing the use of office space in exchange for referrals to the hospital. The Justice Department, however, settled these charges for a payment of $1.5 million from the medical center. Rush did not, however, admit to any improper conduct.
Our Chicago malpractice attorneys will be following this case with great interest. We are at least pleased that the Rush surgeon and hospital executive had enough courage to bring these violations, committed by their peers, to light. Hopefully, those responsible will be held accountable and patients will not longer be put at risk in this manner in the future.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.