Pauline Grant has a big job ahead of her as the new interim CEO of Broward Health.
The Florida system's CEO committed suicide in January, the state is looking into allegations of fraud, waste and abuse, and the governor accused two board members of interfering with that investigation and suspended them.
Last year, the system agreed to pay nearly $70 million to settle allegations that it gave doctors excessive salaries in exchange for referrals, although it did not admit any wrongdoing. Broward, a public health system with five medical centers and hospitals that had operating revenue of $971 million in 2014, is in South Florida.
Some wonder whether Grant can truly begin to turn Broward around as it searches for a permanent CEO. After all, she's a 23-year veteran of a system in a state that's known for healthcare fraud.
“The whole system in a place like Florida develops a culture of corruption and it becomes normalized,” said Patrick Burns of the not-for-profit group Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund. “In that world, it's so easy to rationalize lying, stealing and cheating. There simply aren't enough enforcement resources.”
Since January, HHS has touted about a dozen enforcement actions over alleged Medicare and/or Medicaid fraud in Florida, and the U.S. Justice Department has announced more than 15. In the Southern District of Florida alone, close to 900 people have been charged with fraudulently billing more than $2.5 billion to Medicare since 2007, according to the Justice Department.
Experts say the state's high number of Medicare beneficiaries and its proximity to countries where fraud may be more common make it fertile ground for fraudsters looking to rip off the government and run. In addition, larger Florida systems such as Broward may succumb to the same pressures faced by systems across the country. They're navigating complex laws surrounding physician contracting, facing stiff competition for doctors and battling whistle-blowers eager to reap rich rewards.