When Michigan-based hospital system Beaumont Health recently announced a hefty settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the organization leadership undoubtedly expected their legal troubles were over. Instead, the subsequent unsealing of the provoking whistleblowers’ lawsuit has opened the not-for-profit health system up to a potential new challenge, as three cardiologists named in the legal documents have retained an attorney to defend their reputations, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Earlier this month, Beaumont Health announced an agreement with the government to pay $84.5 million to settle lawsuits claiming hospitals currently in the organization’s healthcare system violated several federal regulations in their arrangements with doctors. The physicians were allegedly offered reduced rent on office space and other perks in an effort to encourage referrals to hospital services.
The settlement was accompanied by an unsealing of the original whistleblower lawsuits, which covered incidents ranging from 2004 to 2012. Eight specific physicians were named in the legal documents.
Dinesh Shah, MD, a cardiologist identified in the documents as a beneficiary of the improper arrangement, said he was shocked when his tenure at the hospital was linked to the settlement.
“I’m surprised they dragged my name into this without even informing me,” Shah told the Detroit Free Press.
Shah joined two other cardiologists identified in the unsealed lawsuit — Joel Kahn, MD, and Renato Ramos, MD — in hiring an attorney to respond to the allegations. The physicians maintain they did nothing wrong, and say their valuable reputations are on the line.
“They were shocked to hear that they were identified as wrongdoers,” Martin Crandall, the lawyer representing the physicians, told the Detroit Free Press. “The essence of the whistleblower complaint is that there were freebies given to doctors. None of them got any of these alleged freebies, yet they end up in the settlement agreement.”
Crandall says the doctors have received no communication about the lawsuit from the Justice Department or Beaumont Health, even when they’ve questioned why they were included in the original complaint. Mark Geary, a spokesperson for Beaumont Health, insisted every named physician was contact by the hospital system when the lawsuit was unsealed following the settlement.
“We understand individuals may have their own opinions about what they believe they experienced many years ago, and they may express their personal opinion,” Geary said to the Free Press.
The doctors received no fines, penalties, or other reprimands. They were simply identified as culpable, which Crandall insists amounts to a “defamatory statement.”
The physicians are still weighing their options, and it’s not clear if they will follow through with a lawsuit against Beaumont Health.
“It is too early to tell,” Crandall said.
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