Whistleblower: Georgia hospitals admitted patients unnecessarily

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA, Ga. —

Three Georgia hospitals are now under federal investigation accused of admitting thousands of patients who didn't need to be there, to bill the government more money.

A federal judge just unsealed the case that started with local whistleblower, Bill Williams. Williams lost his job as chief financial officer at Walton Regional Medical Center in Monroe after questioning hospital procedures.

"I was personally aware of at least two doctors at my hospital that classified that system as fraud," Williams told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.

He says managers from the hospital's parent company Health Management Associates dictated care. Williams says they held daily meetings to review doctors' decisions to admit or discharge patients, and demanded many patients who didn't need to stay in the hospital be admitted anyway, overriding the doctors' assessments.

"They felt bullied and badgered and threatened with their jobs, and they were ... literally hundreds of them," Williams said.

Patients discharged without a hospital stay, or kept only for observation, brought in far less money for the hospitals, particularly when billing Medicare and Medicaid.

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

Williams hired Atlanta based attorney Marlan Wilbanks, who specializes in federal whistleblower cases.

"What this company did, is put profit over patient safety," said Wilbanks.

Wilbanks says records show HMA even paid bonuses to the hospitals that increased their admissions the fastest.

He says the same practices happened at Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder and East Georgia Regional Medical Center in Statesboro.

"It was not just a coincidence, they were doing that in dozens of other hospitals across the United States," added Wilbanks, estimating the cost to taxpayers at more than $300 million, which he hopes HMA will have to repay.

Williams says some of the patients also had to pay out-of-pocket deductibles for those stays, in excess of $1,000 per night. He fears the extra hospital stays may have put patients at risk by exposing them to infection or other illnesses while in the hospital unnecessarily.

"It was greed pure and simple," said Williams.

HMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, however with past lawsuits, a spokesperson stated the company does not comment on pending litigation.