RALEIGH — Despite the tongue lashing a federal judge gave WakeMed about an $8 million proposal to settle a Medicare fraud investigation, hospital CEO Bill Atkinson sent a message late Friday telling employees not to worry.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle refused to sign a proposed deferred prosecution agreement that federal prosecutors presented to him at a hearing that no WakeMed administrators or board members attended.
“We understand the delay and associated news stories are causing concern,” Atkinson said in the message. “Please be aware that our legal team will be working with federal employees to try to present to Judge Boyle all of the information he needs to make a decision at the next hearing.”
Boyle ticked off a list of his grievances about the proposal that included his assessment that it appeared to be little more than a “slap on the hand” for a “too big to fail” corporate giant. Though prosecutors contend WakeMed committed crimes by over-billing Medicaid for millions of dollars worth of expensive overnight care when patients had been treated and released the same day, no indictments have been sought.
At the end of the hearing, Boyle told the assistant U.S. attorney who did the talking to either fold his briefcase or return the first week of February with indictments. The judge told WakeMed lawyers and prosecutors he would reconsider the case on Feb. 5.
“I won’t sign it,” Boyle said at one point.
But Atkinson told employees in his message that despite news reports about Boyle belittling the settlement, the judge “did not reject the Deferred Prosecution Agreement between WakeMed and the government….Since this is an active legal case, WakeMed is unable to comment publicly on many topics,” Atkinson said in his message. “But, please be aware that our attorneys and the government’s attorneys are working together to provide accurate information to the judge.”
Atkinson told employees that WakeMed had “learned from its mistakes and has put processes, procedures and additional training in place to ensure the mistakes do not occur again.”
He urged the employees to keep their focus on the patients and their care.
“Please do not allow this issue to alter your opinion of WakeMed or distract you from your work and our primary mission of providing outstanding and compassionate care to all who seek our services,” Atkinson said in closing.