Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Allegations of Corruption Affecting the South's Largest Hospital

I stumbled over this story while searching for something else. It really isn't new, but it is striking, but not very well publicized.

Last year, a Department of Justice press release revealed that former Georgia State Senator Charles W Walker had been indicted on multiple counts. It alleged two "fraudulant schemes" involving health care.
  • "The second scheme to defraud involved Grady Memorial Hospital, Georgia’s largest public hospital, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The indictment alleges that Charles W. Walker misused his public office for private gain and, in so doing, deprived the public of its right to his honest services as a state legislator. The indictment charges that Walker stalled the passage of legislation affecting the Grady’s funding until hospital executives agreed to use exclusively personnel from Walker’s temporary employment agency to work at the hospital."
  • "In the third fraudulent scheme, the indictment alleges that Charles W. Walker deceived executives at Georgia’s state medical college, the Medical College of Georgia, into using his temporary employment agency for personnel to work at the hospital and into advertising in the Augusta Focus. Walker deceived college officials by misrepresenting that he did not own his two businesses, a move he took in order to circumvent a state conflict of interest law that generally prohibits state public officials from doing business with state entities such as the medical college. According to the indictment, Walker also breached his fiduciary duty to the public by failing to disclose these transactions, on state-mandated
    financial disclosure forms for public officials, until a media inquiry forced him to do so."

Walker's indictment had been briefly reported in the Augusta Chronicle. In addition, a 2001 article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle had noted Grady Memorial Hospital's worsening financial condition, and the charges made then that "wealthy contractors and trial attorneys are being allowed to rip off the hospital," made by a dissident board member. He also asserted "hospital management is adrift and I don't think they have a clue what they are doing." Furthermore, a Lexis-Nexis search revealed that Walker was fined by the state Senate Ethics Commission for failing to disclose his business relationships with both Grady Hospital and the Medical College of Georgia. The Jacksonville based Florida Times-Union has also followed the story. In 2004 it reported that "the FBI has been asked to investigate claims of witness tampering, intimidation, and even possible attempted poisoning of former Grady Hospital employees who blew the whistle on a sweetheart deal ex-Sen. Charles Walker had with the South's largest hospital." It recently reported that Walker and his daughter will go to trial this month.

How I stumbled on this deserves explanation. A UK publication called The New Criminologist, which proclaims itself "the oldest journal for professionals involved in all aspects of criminology," has a special web-based section on "The Grady Coalition," featuring a large number of articles from a group of apparent whistle-blowers aggrieved over the scandal at Grady. I personally know nothing about this group, and can't vouch for the accuracy of their charges, but their work makes for fascinating reading. And there clearly is evidence from the sources listed above to corroborate at least some of what they have been saying.

If nothing else, this demonstrates that there are an unknown number of stories of alleged corruption of health care organizations have been published in the local news media, but in the absence of any systematic effort to find them, the quantity and impact of unethical and corrupt practices in health care also remain unknown.

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