Guilty verdicts for two former executives from a hospital in Rhode Island continued to stoke the hunger for better oversight of hospitals in that state and across the country.
Last week, a jury in U.S. District Court, Providence, R.I., found Robert Urciuoli, former president and chief executive officer of Roger Williams Medical Center, Providence, guilty of conspiracy and 35 counts of mail fraud related to charges of bribes paid to former state lawmaker John Celona to advance the interests of Roger Williams in the state General Assembly.
Frances Driscoll, a former senior vice president at Roger Williams, was found guilty of one count of mail fraud. She was acquitted of conspiracy.
The jury acquitted Peter Sangermano Jr., Roger Williams' former partner in an affiliated assisted-living center, on all charges.
The decision reinforces a need across the country for healthcare organizations to beef up their oversight. The verdict is another wake-up call for boards to ensure that their organizations have appropriate personnel managing the institution in a legalas well as ethicalmanner, said Pat Coffey, a partner at law firm Lord, Bissell & Brook in Chicago.
"It's not to say that directors should be running these organizations,'' Coffey said. "But it is their function to hire qualified people (who) won't ever tarnish the reputation of their institution, never mind jeopardize the future ability of an organization to continue an operation.''
Already, not-for-profit hospitals and systems, quality improvement organizations and group purchasing organizations are increasing their self-policing (See story, p. 28).
In Rhode Island, the court case could continue. Michael Connolly, an attorney for Urciuoli, said the verdict would be appealed.
The verdict came on the seventh day of deliberations after a three-week trial. Celona, a former state senator who agreed to plead guilty in the summer of 2005, was the star witness for the government and spent six days testifying on the stand.
Celona collected about $260,000 from Roger Williams to work as a consultant from 1998 to 2004. The hospital did notify the Rhode Island Ethics Commission about Celona's hiring. However, during the trial it was debated whether the commission knew that Celona was advancing the hospital's interests in the General Assembly as a senator while also working as a consultant.
Urciuoli could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy count and for each of the 17 mail-fraud counts. The other 18 mail-fraud counts carry a steeper maximum prison sentence of 20 years, as well as a $250,000 fine. Urciuoli and Driscoll were freed on bail and are scheduled to be sentenced in March 2007, according to Urciuoli's attorney.
Robert Corrente, the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island, said in a written statement the investigation will continue, but said he couldn't cite specifics. He added that the verdict was a significant victory.
"The verdict sends a loud message-the people of Rhode Island are sick and tired of corruption and inside deals,'' Corrente said in a statement. "We have a right to the honest services of our public officials, and we are simply not going to tolerate anyone-from a private individual to a large company-buying political influence.''
However, in the months since the January indictments, little has been done to ensure that the problem has been fixed. The verdict is further evidence that more oversight of not-for-profits is needed, said Maureen Maigret, director of policy in Rhode Island's Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty's office.
The verdict "confirms that need for stronger standards to be in place,'' Maigret said.