A federal judge allowed North Carolina's WakeMed Health and Hospitals to take an unusual deal to avoid a criminal trial because the risk of closing down a Raleigh, N.C., hospital is too perilous for patients and workers.
The not-for-profit corporation was charged in December with one count of making materially false statements in order to increase Medicare reimbursements—an unprecedented criminal charge for a community hospital, according to prosecutors and numerous legal experts.
Hospital officials admitted in court records that staff members in the Wake Heart Center on the system's Raleigh campus routinely ignored and fabricated physician orders, and as a result billed Medicare for inpatient care when cardiac patients didn't stay overnight in the hospital.
The issue first came to light after a review by a Zone Program Integrity Contractor, Cahaba Safeguard Administrators, found that WakeMed had the highest percentage of so-called “zero-day stays” in the state, and one of the highest such rates in the nation, between 2003 and 2006. Subsequent investigations by hospital staff and prosecutors found widespread irregularities.