The North Broward Hospital District has hired a national law firm to conduct what appears to be a wide-ranging investigation of whether the district has violated federal laws against health care fraud, according to records recently made available to Juice.
The investigation likely focuses on points of concern described in a memo written in mid-May by the district's general counsel, Marc Goldstone, on the day before he was fired by Broward Health commissioners. Juice was first to release that memo and consider its potential implications, in this post from September.
Records show that Arent Fox, a firm for which analyzing federal compliance matters is a specialty, was retained shortly after Goldstone was fired along with the associate general counsel, Joe Truhe. In these past six months, the district has paid Arent Fox $335,000 -- its second biggest legal expense. (First, at $369,000, is the law firm of Sam Goren, who was retained as the district's interim general counsel after Goldstone and Truhe's terminations.)
But that $335,000 paid to Arent Fox by the tax-subsidized health care provider is a drop in the bucket compared to what it could potentially cost if the district is indeed violating federal law.
For example, Goldstone expressed fear that the district's "discharge summaries" constituted a violation of federal Stark Statutes. Since those statutes allow for a civil penalty of $15,000 per violation, it means that dollar figure could be multiplied by the thousands of discharge summaries issued by Broward Health physicians during the period of the flawed policy was in place. Potentially, hundreds of millions of dollars in fines -- and the discharge summaries were only one of roughly a dozen regulatory crises identified in Goldston's memo.
Broward Health officials refused to say why the district had retained Arent Fox. In an email, Jacob Horowitz, a member of Goren's Fort Lauderdale firm told Juice: "On the advice of our outside special counsel, Bruce Johnson, Esq., we are unable to respond to this inquiry due to the litigation that is currently pending."
That would be the whistleblower lawsuits filed against the district by Goldstone and Truhe.
A representative of Arent Fox hasn't gotten back to us with a question about what, exactly, the firm is doing in exchange for its $335,000 in legal fees.
But its reputation for helping organizations meet federal regulatory standards is one clue.
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An even bigger clue lies in the time entries submitted to Broward Health in billings by Goren's firm. A June 22 item, for instance, refers to Goren's having a lengthy phone conference with Arent Fox about "federal review."
If indeed Broward Health is investigating its own compliance, there is a range of possible outcomes. In the best-case scenario, Arent Fox recommends the district make a few policy tweaks as a defensive maneuver, such that a curious federal investigator would quickly see little reason to snoop around.
The worst-case scenario is that Arent Fox finds the district to have strayed far from federal guidelines. That, plus the recent media coverage of district political scandals, would lead the Arent Fox attorneys to warn officials they're in danger of being investigated -- and grievously exposed to massive civil penalties. In which case, the advice would likely be to approach the feds with a packet of policy changes and a willingness to pay a fine up-front, rather than risk whatever fine would result from a federal probe.
Who's going to pay for that fine? If you live in North Broward -- and especially if you own a home in North Broward -- that would be you.