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Feds Intervene in Qui Tam Whistleblower Lawsuit

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Waycross, GAA Qui Tam Whistleblower lawsuit has been elevated to a formal complaint by the US Government after the feds decided to intervene in an action originally brought by a qui tam government whistleblower. According to the federal whistleblower act a private citizen can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government and share in the proceeds of any recovered damages. Given the provisions of the False Claims Act, the government has the right to recover up to three times the amount of its losses, plus civil penalties.

In this case, according to an official release by the Justice Department, the original whistleblower lawsuit was brought by Lana Rogers, identified as a nurse who formerly worked in the Heart Center of Satilla Regional Medical Center located in Waycross, Georgia. The overall complaint names Satilla Regional and Dr. Najam Azmat as defendants, and alleges that the defendants submitted false or fraudulent claims to federal health care programs, such as Medicare.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that certain operative procedures performed by Dr. Azmat, together with various hospital services provided by Satilla Regional in concert with those identified procedures, were not compatible with accepted standards of medical practice and were of no medical value.

According to the False Claims Act lawsuit, Azmat was recruited by the hospital in the spring of 2005 and was allowed to perform endovascular procedures; in spite of the fact Azmat allegedly lacked the specialized training necessary to perform such procedures. In addition, it is alleged Dr. Azmat lacked experience with endovascular protocol and had never done the procedure at any of the hospitals employing him previously. Dr. Azmat was not afforded privileges to perform the procedures in question at Satilla, but allegedly carried on anyway.

The lawsuit contends that Azmat's lack of experience was evident to the nurses in the hospital's cath lab, who repeatedly voiced their concerns to hospital management. It is alleged, however, that no formal action was taken by Satilla Regional for a period of five months, during which time patients were seriously injured and one patient died from hemorrhagic shock following an endovascular procedure during which Dr. Azmat perforated her renal artery.

"When health care providers cut corners by allowing unqualified doctors to perform complicated medical procedures, patients suffer," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "Here, we allege individuals were endangered because of these defendants. The seriousness of this case illustrates why we remain committed to protecting patient safety and the integrity of our federal health care programs by aggressively enforcing our health care fraud laws."

The US Justice Department intervened in the case in April, and recently filed its own complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia as United States ex rel. Lana Rogers v. Najam Azmat, M.D. and Satilla Health Services Inc., dba Satilla Regional Medical Center.

Federal whistleblowers not only provide their government and the citizenry at large a valued service, they also share in the proceeds. According to the Justice Department release, the US government has recovered more than $4 billion in False Claims Act cases since January of last year.

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