Whistleblower lawsuit alleges Erlanger surgeons billed for concurrent surgeries

A whistleblower lawsuit filed against Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Erlanger Health System alleges hospital leaders knowingly overlapped surgeries and allowed trainees to operate without physician supervision, leading to patient safety issues and illegal billing practices, Times Free Press reported March 27.

The complaint — brought by Stephen Adams, MD, Erlanger's former chief information officer, and orthopedic surgeons Julie Adams, MD, and Scott Steinmann, MD — was filed under the federal False Claims Act and Tennessee Medicaid False Claims Act. 

"The surgeries were often scheduled to start within fifteen to thirty minutes of one another and, in the case of three overlapping bookings, two or more surgeries frequently occurred entirely within the duration of a third," the suit alleges. "This routine practice meant unwitting patients were subjected to longer-than-necessary operating-room times and charges, often under anesthesia, often in the care of trainees, and nearly always without the backup of a properly qualified surgeon, despite legal requirements."

The three are seeking damages after undergoing a "malicious and unlawful campaign of retaliation" under former CEO Will Jackson, MD, according to the suit.

Erlanger spokesperson Blaine Kelley told the Times Free Press that the state of Tennessee has already declined to intervene in the case, which was originally filed in April 2021. The U.S. Attorney's office has not released a decision yet, according to the report.

"Erlanger has worked with and otherwise fully cooperated with the government's review of the claims as they relate to Erlanger over the past 18 months," Ms. Kelley wrote. "Erlanger disputes the merit of the allegations. No instances of patient harm relating to these allegations have been identified."

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