State

Jury awards $21.2 million to Corbin man for unneeded heart surgeries at London hospital

St. Joseph-London Hospital
St. Joseph-London Hospital

A truck driver from Corbin should receive $21.2 million from the hospital in London and its parent company after being subjected to unnecessary heart surgeries, a jury ruled Wednesday.

The verdict is thought to be a record award of damages in circuit court in Laurel County, said Hans Poppe, a Louisville attorney who represented the plaintiff, Kevin Wells.

The defendants in the case were St. Joseph Health System and Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives. They are likely to appeal, Poppe said.

Wells and scores of other people treated at St. Joseph-London — as well as the federal government — alleged in civil complaints that doctors there performed hundreds of unnecessary heart surgeries to boost payments from publicly funded health programs and insurance companies.

The procedures included heart catheterizations and installation of stents and pacemakers.

In January 2014, St. Joseph Health System Inc. agreed to pay $16.5 million to the government to settle allegations of a pervasive scheme to bill Medicare and Medicaid for unneeded heart procedures at the London hospital from January 2008 through August 2011.

St. Joseph did not admit wrongdoing as part of that settlement.

St. Joseph Health System merged with Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s HealthCare in 2012 to form KentuckyOne Health. The alleged violations covered in the settlement were before the merger.

In Wells’ case, Dr. Anis Chalhoub told him in September 2010 that a catheterization showed a 60 percent blockage in an artery, and Chalhoub later said that if Wells didn’t get a pacemaker, he would die, Poppe said.

Wells got the pacemaker, but when Chalhoub later recommended a stent, Wells got suspicious and sought opinions from other doctors, said Poppe, who represented Wells with London attorney Gary Hudson and Tom Rhodes of San Antonio.

The new doctors confirmed that Wells didn’t need the pacemaker, but it can’t be removed. A new test showed that Wells had only a 10 percent blockage, which requires no treatment, Poppe said.

Wells suffered a shoulder problem after the pacemaker surgery that laid him up for weeks, and he had to switch to another driving job that keeps him away from home more, Poppe said.

“He lost all his family time,” Poppe said.

Poppe began filing lawsuits in Laurel County in 2011 against St. Joseph Health System and several doctors over alleged unnecessary heart procedures in London, and he ultimately filed cases for more than 300 people.

Some cases didn’t go forward for various reasons. However, there are 170 pending against St. Joseph Health System and Catholic Health Initiatives, Poppe said.

The doctors named in the lawsuits settled the cases earlier.

Wells’ case was the first in which a jury heard claims against the hospital, Poppe said.

Poppe said St. Joseph set up a system in which it bought the services of Chalhoub and other doctors and gave incentives to boost the number of heart procedures, but it didn’t do anything to monitor whether the procedures were necessary.

St. Joseph argued that the treatment Wells received was necessary, that it couldn’t control doctors’ medical judgment, and that its arrangement with the doctors boosted service to poor people, Poppe said.

But jurors ruled that the hospital and its parent company were negligent, violated consumer-protection rules and took part in a conspiracy, he said.

“This jury ... said this hospital engaged in a conspiracy to profit off the backs of the people of Laurel County,” Poppe said.

A federal grand jury charged Chalhoub in June with defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and other health plans by billing for unneeded heart surgeries between March 2007 and July 2011, when he practiced in London.

Chalhoub has pleaded not guilty.

Another doctor who worked at St. Joseph-London for a time, Sandesh R. Patil, pleaded guilty in 2013 to lying about the severity of a patient’s condition to make sure the government would pay for a heart procedure. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

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