Tenet nurses 'outraged' by $1.78M settlement to resolve false claim allegations

The United States government issued a $1.78 million fine against Worcester, Mass.-based Saint Vincent Hospital after it overcharged Medicare for inpatient services, including cardiac surgeries. Nurses are "outraged" at the hospital's leadership and its owner, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare. 

The hospital received Medicare outlier payments it was not entitled to, according to a Dec. 9 news release from the Justice Department. Between 2018 and 2019, it inflated charges to receive increased payments, then failed to fully reimburse the government. 

The Massachusetts Nurses Association penned a news release Dec. 12 expressing nurses' frustration towards Tenet. 

"Once again, our CEO and Tenet Healthcare has demonstrated its disgraceful desire for profits over any concern for the quality and safety of patient care," Marlena Pellegrino, RN, a medical surgical nurse and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at Saint Vincent Hospital, said in the release.

Tenet Healthcare has amassed more than $1.8 billion in federal fines over the past 20 years, the MNA said. The news release specifically referenced two retaliation firing lawsuits totaling $35.6 million, and one case of charging Medicare for unnecessary procedures totaling $1.41 million.

"The fine by the Government also follows more than a dozen pending charges by nurses encompassing more than 20 counts of unfair labor practices by Tenet with the National Labor Relations Board for Tenet's violation of their union rights, as well as the filing of dozens of grievances by the nurses for the hospital's refusal to honor commitments to safely staff the facility to ensure patients receive appropriate care," the release said.

"Our nurses have always taken such pride at being a St. Vincent nurse and we are appalled to see what this administration is doing to our community hospital and the patients we serve every day," Dominique Muldoon, RN, a medical surgical nurse and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit said in the release.

A spokesperson from Saint Vincent Hospital told Becker's that the situation did not impact patient care or costs. 

"This settlement involves older claims relating to a technical Medicare billing issue for a minimally invasive procedure, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), made available to the community as part of Saint Vincent Hospital’s cutting-edge cardiovascular program," the spokesperson for Saint Vincent Hospital said. "The procedure requires the use of a unique device for which manufacturers charge the hospital more than $30,000 per patient. This resulted in a complicated charge structure for Medicare, however, this did not impact any Medicare patient’s out of pocket costs."

"As noted by the government in its press release, Saint Vincent Hospital had already identified the issue and started processing repayment of excess funds it received from Medicare before any contact by the government. The Hospital fully cooperated with the government throughout the process and is pleased that this settlement fully resolved the issue. No concerns were raised regarding the quality of patient care provided and the hospital maintains a commitment to compliance," the spokesperson told Becker's.

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