Tenet Healthcare-Owned Redding Medical Center Whistleblowers Receive $8.1 Million From Federal Government
The federal government has paid $8.1 million to two individuals for their role in accusing Tenet Healthcare's Redding Medical Center of performing unnecessary heart surgeries, the New York Times reports. The Rev. Joseph Corapi, a Catholic priest, and Joseph Zerga, an accountant, filed suit against Redding under the False Claims Act, after physicians at Redding recommended that Corapi undergo immediate surgery to correct a heart problem, which physicians outside of Redding said was unnecessary. The subsequent federal investigation of Redding was made public in the fall of 2002 (Eichenwald, New York Times, 1/8). Tenet officials agreed in August to pay $54 million to settle allegations that Dr. Chae Hyun Moon, Redding's former chief cardiologist, and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez, formerly a cardiac surgeon at the facility, performed unnecessary heart surgeries and defrauded Medicare (California Healthline, 12/12/03). A criminal investigation into the actions of the physicians who allegedly committed the fraud is still pending. The $8.1 million is 15% of the $54 million settlement, the statutory minimum award for which whistleblowers are eligible under the False Claims act. Corapi and Zerga will share the money and will be required to pay their attorneys with funds from it. Dugan Barr, one of the lawyers representing the whistleblowers, said his clients were "very pleased" with the award. "If there ever was a case where somebody deserves a reward for doing the right thing, it's this one," he added (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 1/8). Michael Hirst, the assistant U.S. attorney in Sacramento who handled the case, said, "We are pleased to provide Mr. Corapi and Mr. Zerga with their statutory award for coming forward. Their willingness to blow the whistle on fraud resulted in our putting a stop to the surgeries and recovering $54 million" (New York Times, 1/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.