South Miami Hospital, part of the nonprofit Baptist Health South Florida system, has agreed to pay about $12 million to settle federal charges of healthcare fraud arising from a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that a heart specialist performed medically unnecessary and costly cardiac procedures on thousands of patients dating back to 2007, the Justice Department reported this week.
The heart specialist who allegedly performed the procedures, Dr. John R. Dylewski, is the former medical director for South Miami Hospital’s L. Austin Weeks Center for Cardiac Electrophysiology — a job that he was appointed to as a reward from Baptist Health executives after procuring a $10 million donation for the center, according to the lawsuit.
Dylewski could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Baptist Health officials said he no longer works for the hospital system.
“South Miami Hospital cooperated fully with the United States government to reach a settlement in this case,” Yvonne Johnson, a physician and chief medical officer for the hospital said in a written statement. “The claims settled by the lawsuit are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. It is important for our patients to know that we are committed to providing the highest quality of care. Dr. John Dylewski is not practicing at our hospital.”
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The lawsuit, which was initiated by two physicians, James A. Burks and James D. Davenport, alleges that thousands of patients, many of them elderly, were subjected to medically unnecessary and costly procedures to treat irregular heartbeats at South Miami Hospital with the knowledge of top Baptist Health executives.
Burks is a vascular surgeon who began his practice at South Miami Hospital in 2003. Davenport is a cardiologist who served on various peer review committees at South Miami Hospital between 2010 and 2014. They will receive about $2.7 million from the settlement.
In court documents, Burks and Davenport claimed they had knowledge of Dylewski and South Miami Hospital engaging in numerous unnecessary procedures — including echocardiograms, electrophysiology studies, head upright tilt tests, and other treatments for irregular heart beats — to boost doctor and hospital reimbursements paid by Medicare and other federal healthcare programs.
The lawsuit also alleges that Dylewski and Baptist Health executives benefited from illegal patient referrals made by Dylewski to the Weeks Center in return for a job promotion and pay raise.
Dylewski secured a $10 million donation from a patient, L. Austin Weeks, after finding the medication that solved Weeks’ medical condition, according to a story published in the Miami Herald in November 2004. At the time, Weeks’ gift was the largest individual donation to the South Miami Hospital Foundation.
As a result of the donation and Dylewski’s efforts to secure it, the lawsuit alleges, South Miami Hospital built a state-of-the-art clinic with new cardiology equipment and an outpatient cardiac rhythm management center.
The suit alleges that Baptist Health executives either induced Dylewski to solicit the donation from Weeks, or they rewarded him for having obtained the donation, by appointing him medical director of the Weeks Center and paying him “a substantial annual salary.”
Multiple physicians and other staff complained verbally and in writing to Baptist Health administrators about Dylewski’s practices, according to the lawsuit, which notes that, “The complaints fell on deaf ears.”
Weeks, a wealthy petroleum geologist, also donated more than $1 million to the University of Miami for prostate cancer research after his doctor there helped him beat cancer. That donation, too, is embroiled in a lawsuit that the doctor filed against UM over how the funds of Weeks’ endowment were being spent.