published Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Attorneys drop Erlanger whistleblower lawsuit

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Suit against Erlanger Medical Center
Suit against Erlanger Medical Center

Both state and federal attorneys have declined to move forward in a whistleblower lawsuit that says Erlanger hospital made false Medicare claims.

Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier released an order Tuesday stating that because the state did not find enough grounds to intervene in the 2-year-old lawsuit, federal attorneys also decided not take further action.

The complaint, filed by Lisa K. Stratienko in 2010, had been under seal for two years while attorneys investigated the allegations, in accordance with the federal law governing whistleblower claims.

The 34-page complaint claims Erlanger made a series of false or fraudulent claims for Medicare payments, stemming from "improper agreements" with third-party physician groups.

It also alleges that Erlanger acted in outright violation of a corporate integrity agreement it entered in 2005 with the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That agreement came after the hospital was forced to pay a $40 million settlement for years of billing fraud.

Stratienko is the wife of cardiologist Dr. Alex Stratienko -- who has filed at least three unsuccessful lawsuits in federal court against the hospital system since 2007, court records show.

The hospital's attorney, Brian Roark, declined to comment Wednesday.

In a statement released Wednesday, interim Erlanger president and CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson said the hospital has worked "cooperatively" with government officials throughout the investigation related to the case.

"We are pleased to learn that the United States and the State of Tennessee have declined to intervene in the matter at this time," Woodard-Thompson said. "Erlanger is confident in our contracting procedures and compliance programs."

The federal and state attorneys' decision not to prosecute the case is not the equivalent to dismissal. The case could technically proceed in court with Lisa Stratienko acting as plaintiff.

Repeated attempts to reach attorney John Konvalinka, who represents Lisa Stratienko in the case, were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon. Konvalinka has been involved in several lawsuits brought against the hospital in recent years.

Woodard-Thompson stated that the hospital would continue to "vigorously defend itself" against Lisa Stratienko's claims.

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