The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.
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A woman with cerebral palsy, mental retardation and swallowing difficulties was force-fed her dinner last May at a Maple Grove supervised-living facility, a Minnesota Office of Health Facility Complaints report concluded Nov. 9. The office substantiated a report of physical abuse by staff at the facility, Homeward Bound.
The investigator determined the employee who fed the client had been trained in the proper feeding procedures but didn’t adhere to them on this occasion. By nodding or shaking her head in response to questions, the client told investigators that she experienced trouble breathing during the feeding and tried in vain to stop the staff member. A coworker, after allegedly telling the employee to stop, used her cell phone to videotape the incident.
According to the report, Homeward Bound fired the employee the day after the incident on the grounds that he violated the Vulnerable Adults Act by using excessive force. A police report was filed.
Browsing through the online comments on my Sunday column about Duane North, the would-be tourist in Vietnam who was immediately deported for lack of a visa, I'm struck once again by the refrain I've heard since this feature debuted: "This isn't a Whistleblower story!" It's actually encouraging to me that readers have decided for yourselves what is, and isn't, a Whistleblower story. And that you're so eager to tell our team about it.
Every story we do has an element of personal responsibility. Everyone who takes out a mortgage or makes an investment or buys an airline ticket signs a contract. I can't think of a single story that I've written under the Whistleblower aegis that hasn't prompted at least one reader to say, "This isn't news. It's obviously that whiner's fault, if [he or she] hadn't made that decision, none of it would have happened."
In Mr. North's case, commenters piled on, finding no sympathy for North's fate because of his own admitted blunders. But imagine if he had made these travel arrangements 20 years ago, when buying an airline ticket and a hotel room meant sitting down at a desk with a professional in an office. Do you think he would have left that office without knowing he needed a visa to travel to Vietnam? The printout that he got from a friend's computer showing his travel arrangements told him there was a toll-free number to find out visa requirements. But he would have to go online to find out what that toll-free number is. Whistleblower team researcher Jane Friedmann discovered that the State Department doesn't even have a phone number for that kind of information.
Finally, Whistleblower is all about investigating the stories of people who talk about bad things that happened to them. From the moment Duane North called me, I wanted to know: how could this happen? If the answer to that question points the finger at a company or an organization, or merely to the individual's mistakes, I'll leave that with you. I just want to ensure I give you enough information to make that call.
By Jane Friedmann
Craig Patrick was told he wasn't a "team player" when he raised questions about suspected Medicare fraud by his employer, a medical device company called Kyphon Inc., according to an Associated Press report last year. Patrick, who lives in Hudson, Wisconsin, found that someone was willing to listen: the U.S. Justice Department. A lawsuit filed by Patrick and another man under the federal False Claims Act - a law designed to protect and reward insiders who report suspected fraud against the government - cost Kyphon (now owned by Medtronic) $75 million. In May, my colleague Bob Von Sternberg reported that three hospitals associated with HealthEast Care System of St. Paul agreed to pay $2.8 million for overcharging Medicare, while this week, the Justice Department announced that hospitals in Indiana and Alabama would pay $8 million more.
In a news release Tuesday, the Justice Department said the allegations involved a spine surgery called kyphoplasty, that used a kit sold by Kyphon, and contended in the lawsuit that the company "defrauded Medicare by counseling hospital providers to perform kyphoplasty procedures as an in-patient procedure, even though in many cases the minimally-invasive procedure should have been done on an out-patient basis."
“By keeping patients overnight, without regard to medical necessity, hospitals could seek greater reimbursement from Medicare and make much larger profits on kyphoplasty,” said Kathy Mehltretter, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York in Buffalo.
For their efforts in helping the government, Patrick and the other former Kyphon employee, Chuck Bates of Alabama, "will receive approximately $1.4 million as their share of the settlement proceeds." That's about a tenth of what they got for the Medtronic -Kyphon settlement last year.
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