DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The whistle-blower who sued and alerted the U.S. Department of Justice about wrongdoing at Halifax Health Medical Center says she's been shunned by some of her co-workers.
Elin Baklid-Kunz and her attorneys are set to receive a $20.8 million settlement for blowing the whistle on the hospital system's employment and billing practices.
"I have absolutely been shunned," Baklid-Kunz, 48, told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. "People I used to interact with all the time won't even acknowledge me in the hallway. Not everyone in life gets to know who are their true friends, but I have gotten to know who my true friends are."
She still works as director of physician services at Halifax. Federal law prevents her from being fired from her $92,000 job for filing the law suit. But she says she's "technically lost my job" because she's been stripped of her responsibilities. The 20-year veteran of the hospital said she's not allowed to attend any meetings and is kept in the dark about hospital operations.
Hospital spokesman John Guthrie said she is "invited to attend managers' meetings, meets regularly with her supervisor and has work duties to fulfill."
Some co-workers, she said, accuse her of jeopardizing their jobs by filing the lawsuit in 2009. The hospital recently settled part of the case for $85 million with the Justice Department, which joined in on some of the claims in 2011.
Halifax officials have denied they committed Medicare fraud. They say they settled part of the case to minimize legal expenses. And they say they structured employment agreements in a way to keep vital physicians at the hospitals, which provides multi-millions in charity care annually.
Baklid-Kunz says she saw no other option that filing the lawsuit. And she told the newspaper that the community's health care will be better once the dust settles from the lawsuit.
In 2008, she raised concerns over contracts the hospital had with six cancer doctors, who were paid bonuses based on the hospital's operating margin. A hospital attorney reviewed the contracts and wrote it appeared they violated the Stark Law. That law prohibits providers from paying doctors based on referrals and volumes.
After a second review, the hospital paid a final round of bonuses before restructuring the contracts.
"When I learned we disregarded and paid anyway, I thought this could be criminal - not only had we committed fraud but we went ahead and paid," she said. "I was afraid I would be thrown under the bus."
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