HMA facing flurry of whistleblower suits

Florida-based for-profit hospital operator Health Management Associates, already under fire from a former chief financial officer for one of its facilities in Georgia, has disclosed that it is facing several federal whistleblower suits.

The Naples, FL-based HMA disclosed in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the suits were unsealed in courts in Georgia and Florida and that the "the United States has elected to exercise its right to intervene in and litigate each of these four actions." It also noted that the federal government will join at least four other lawsuits that it expects to be unsealed in the near future.

The unsealed suits allege that HMA violated the False Claims Act as well as the Stark anti-kickback laws due to potential collusion with hospital medical staff.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department has also issued a statement of interest suggesting it is looking into allegations that hospitals in the Atlanta area operated by HMA and Tenet Healthcare may have encouraged pregnant undocumented women to give birth at their facilities, according to WSB-TV. Although Mediciad barrs illegal immigrants from full partition in the program, it will cover hospital-based maternity services.

"Kickbacks were paid by Tenet and HMA to buy referrals of pregnant Hispanic women," said Marlan Wilbanks, an Atlanta-based attorney, told WSB-TV. Wilbanks represents Ralph Williams, a former chief financial officer of Walton Regional Medical Center, an HMA-owned property. Williams is suing HMA and Tenet for the alleged scheme. Both the federal and Georgia governments have joined Williams in his suit, which was unsealed in August.

Williams also undertook a separate action that accuses HMA of pressuring hospital management and medical staff to admit patients who did not require hospital care.

"They wanted to admit at least 50 percent of all Medicare patients, or 65-plus aged patients that came through the emergency room," Williams told WSB-TV. "I felt like in my 30-plus years of being in the business, I had never seen a more egregious top-down system."

To learn more:
- read the WSB-TV article on William's undocumented patient suit
- here's  the WSB-TV article on William's admitted patient allegations
- read the HMA SEC filing