The U.S. Justice Department is suing Christi Sulzbach, the former general counsel for Tenet Healthcare Corp., alleging she certified to HHS that the company was in line with federal laws even though she was aware of a dozen physician contracts at 391-bed North Ridge Medical Center, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that violated prohibitions against self-referral.
Tenet paid $22.5 million in 2004 to settle North Ridges alleged violations. The governments complaint against Sulzbach, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Miami, claims that Sulzbach received a memo in 1997 questioning contracts with the physicians, and that Sulzbach in turn sought review from outside lawyers who confirmed that the compensation arrangements violated the Stark law.
Months later, however, Sulzbach submitted Tenets compliance report to HHS with her sworn declaration that its records and practices in the previous year complied with federal requirements. The complaint also alleges that Sulzbach contributed to an effort to withhold documents from the government during an investigation of the matter triggered by a whistle-blower lawsuit.
The complaint alleges Sulzbach is personally responsible for more than 70,000 payments the government made, worth about $18 million. She is also the target of a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit regarding allegedly misstated earnings, charges that Tenet paid $10 million to settle in April.
"This is a civil lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice relating to allegations that are now more than 10 years old," Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini said. Sulzbach, he said, resigned nearly four years ago. "Since 2003, Tenet is a completely changed company," Campanini said.
Sulzbach could not be reached for comment. -- by Gregg Blesch