MODESTO, Calif. (CN) – An oncologist claims the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency demoted and defamed him and made “death threats against him and his family,” after he blew the whistle on its Medicare and Medi-Cal fraud and shoddy patient care.
Dr. Robert Williams sued Stanislaus County, its Health Services Agency, seven county employees, and the Scenic Faculty Medical Group, in Stanislaus County Court.
Williams says the county hired him in 2003 to provide oncology services in 2003, and promoted him to director of specialty clinics in 2004.
Williams claims that from July 2010 to September 2011 he complained in writing about unethical and illegal goings-on at Stanislaus County Health Services.
The complaint lists 12 such complaints: “(a) the unlicensed practice of medicine where patients’ lives were being put in danger, (b) medical records missing from patients’ charts to hide the unlicensed practice of medicine, (c) plaintiff’s medical orders being altered without his knowledge and patients’ lives being put in danger, (d) clinic manager coming in high on marijuana and making irrational decisions against plaintiff’s sound medical judgment and putting patients at risk by altering plaintiff’s orders without plaintiff’s knowledge and then claiming the orders were made by plaintiff, and sometimes even forging plaintiff’s signature, (e) clinic manager constantly pressuring plaintiff to participate in fraud, (f) patients’ information being disclosed to third parties in violation of HIPPA, (g) fraudulent billings to Medicare and Medi-Cal for services that had not been rendered (in fact and indeed, on August 9, 2011, following plaintiff’s complaints to the administration about its fraudulent billings, defendant [Elizabeth] Cooper [specialty clinics manager] did admit about the fraudulent billings and even told the oncology staff, ‘We’ll have to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars’ for the fraudulent billings), (h) unethical practices that compromised patient care such as withholding chemotherapy, delaying treatment and or less than optimal care for MIA [medically indigent adult] cancer patients until they are ‘dumped’ on Medi-Cal so as to avoid paying for MIA patients; dumping MIA patients on Medi-Cal inappropriately without proper qualification and sometimes with plaintiff’s forged signatures; extraordinary delay for MIA patients in getting them treatment at a tertiary center, (i) funds/grants not being used for intended purposes, (j) free medications intended for MIA and poor patients being smuggled to the Agency’s pharmacies and sold for profit, (k) repeated labor law violations where employees, including several doctors, being terminated with false documentations in retaliation for speaking against the Agency’s violations of the law, and oncology employees working without pay and without breaks, and (l) needless waste of taxpayer money.”
The scorching complaint continues: “Frequently, plaintiff was told by defendant Cooper to engage in unethical and illegal practices, particularly to withhold treatment for MIA patients, inappropriately ‘dumping’ MIA patients on Medi-Cal, and to engage in fraudulent billings. When plaintiff refused, defendant Cooper frequently told plaintiff that the order is coming ‘directly from Mary Ann Lee’ [defendant and managing director] and commented, ‘you will do it, everyone relies on you’ and defendant Cooper continued to pressure and harass plaintiff by calling his house multiple times a day. When plaintiffs refused, defendants frequently altered plaintiff’s billings and submitted them to Medi-Cal and Medicare for payment.
“As a result of these illegal practices, the Agency and the county were making almost $10,000,000 per year from the oncology clinic. Each year, during budget, these profit reports would be given to plaintiff and when plaintiff questioned the profit the defendant Agency was making, he would frequently be told by defendant Cooper that ‘this is funny money.'”
Williams claims he made all these reports to Lee, and that “Each time, defendant Lee refused to resolve or even address the issues except to order plaintiff to not put anything in writing, claiming, ‘I don’t want the auditors to see the complaints when we get audited.'”
Williams claims “in response to his speech,” his “refusal to participate in the above stated activities,” and his complaints to the administration, the defendants “began a campaign of retaliation” against him, “to (a) have his medical license revoked with baseless allegations, (b) to have his hospital privileges revoked by actively coaching hospital agents to file false complaints against plaintiff (plaintiff was alerted by hospital’s upper management of the defendants’ actions and activities), (c) interfering with his ability to practice medicine and care for his patients by concealing important medical reports and documents, (d) set him up for countless false allegations, (e) engaged in frequent harassment by reading his private emails, by secretly hiding in his office and listen to his telephone conversations, by failing to provide him with adequate staff, attempting to cause him grave bodily harm by damaging his tire at night, issuing death threats against plaintiff and his family, stealing his iPad twice to find out information about plaintiff, (f) damaged his reputation with deliberate false statements by claiming that plaintiff has ‘mental issues’ and that he is ‘lazy and incompetent with sloppy work’, (g) permanently damaged his unblemished record by concealing a lawsuit from him where he was erroneously sued, and (m) [sic] interfering with his employment contract with the Agency.”
Williams says the before he complaint about the defendants’ “unethical practices,” he had always been given the highest performance reviews, and received the county’s “Above and Beyond Physician” award. He had “never had a medical board complaint against him, he had never been sued for malpractice, he had never had any complaints whatsoever by patients, employees, and hospitals until he started blowing the whistle,” his complaint states.
He says he “discovered the conspiracy among the defendants to retaliate against him on or about March 4, 2011, when anonymous documents were delivered to his office showing that all the defendants in this case were in the scheme.”
In January 2011, Williams says in his complaint, the California Medical Board sent him a letter about a complaint filed by a patient. Williams says that patient had previously written him a letter thanking him for the care he had provided to her. Williams says he notified Cooper, Lee, and defendant Health Services Agency employee, Willie Mixon, about the complaint, and they all “denied any knowledge about the matter.”
The complaint continues: “Plaintiff was denied any access to the patient’s file by these defendants and plaintiff was instructed not to prepare a response and was told that the defendant Agency would prepare the response on his behalf. Two days before the response was due, plaintiff inquired about the response and he was told that he would have to prepare the response himself. When the patient’s file was turned over to plaintiff, over 100 pages were destroyed, including the signed consent form. All the defendants refused to help plaintiff in preparing a response and they refused to support plaintiff.”
Williams says that he discovered in March 2011 “that all of the defendants were directly involved in manipulating the patient to file a complaint against plaintiff. In fact, plaintiff was given evidence that the defendants were not only altering plaintiff’s medical orders, but they also helped the patient to prepare the complaint to the Medical Board against plaintiff, and they were going to the patient’s house to coach and turn the patient against plaintiff by lying to the patient about plaintiff, despite the fact that the defendants knew that the patient received the best treatment from plaintiff and as a result, had the best possible outcome.”
The complaint continues: “Defendant Cooper later admitted that the complaint against plaintiff was prepared by defendant Mixon at the request of the defendant administrators and that she was asked to read the complaint before it was mailed to the Medical Board. Defendant Cooper further admitted that the complaint process was started ‘months ago’ and that she was instructed by the defendant administrators, mainly defendants [Susan] Herzog, Lee, [Delbert] Morris, and [Greg] Diederich not to inform plaintiff of the matter.”
Susan Herzog was human resources manager of Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, Delbert Morris is the medical director of the clinics division of the agency, and Greg Diederich was its clinical services associate director, according to the complaint.
Williams claims the defendants made the Medical Board complaint, which is supposed to be confidential, public to employees of the agency.
In May 2011, Williams says, he discovered that he had been sued erroneously in November 2010, and that the defendants concealed the notice of intent to sue that had been sent to him in a personal and confidential envelope.
“Subsequently, the defendants made every effort to keep the plaintiff in the lawsuit as long as possible and refused to cooperate in notifying the suing party that plaintiff was sued erroneously,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiff was forced to retain his own attorney, who was successful in having plaintiff dismissed from the case in one single telephone call with the suing party.”
After that, Williams says, the defendants “increased their campaigns of retaliation” against him. He says they falsely claimed that his work was “sloppy,” and coached staff members “to complain about him and his work.” He claims he again was pressured to engage in fraudulent billings and was asked to bill for services he never rendered.
Williams claims the retaliation included “secretly listening to his phone conversations and reading his private emails; refusing to give him his mail including those letters marked ‘personal and confidential;’ failing to provide him with sufficient support staff in violation of the terms of his contract; vandalizing his car; issuing death threats against him and his family; attempting to set him up with false discrimination claim; refusing to clean his office where the oncology clinic was infested with rats; stealing his iPad to find personal information; destroying patients’ medical records containing evidence of unlicensed medical practice and refusing to give him records when he needed them for purposes of patient care; interfering with his contract; humiliating him by escorting him with two security guards with one security guard being ordered by defendant Lee to stand outside his office door the entire time he was working in retaliation for exercising his legal right according to defendant Lee’s written email and later claiming that plaintiff is a ‘thief;’ and repeated interfering with his ability to care for his patients and putting patients’ safety at risk.”
Williams adds: “as a result of the defendants’ intentional interference, at least three patients died and at least two patients were substantially.”
Williams says his contract with Stanislaus County Health Services Agency expired on June 30, 2011. He says he signed a new contract, which was approved by defendant Diederich on June 6. But he says a June 24 meeting to finalize the contract was canceled, and instead defendant Herzog was sent to audit and inspect Williams’ oncology unit.
“Defendant Herzog also attempted to falsely accuse plaintiff of falsifying continuing education records but she was unsuccessful,” Williams says in the complaint.
He adds: “After Dr. Williams was subjected to multiple retaliatory attacks and he exhausted all administrative remedies, and after defendant Lee continued to sanction the continuous retaliatory acts against plaintiff, on June 28, 2011, defendant Lee substantially changed the terms of plaintiff’s contract. As a result, plaintiff announced his departure from the Agency. In order to mitigate his damages and to protect the safety of his patients, plaintiff opened his own private practice.
“Still, the defendants continued their campaign of retaliation and harassment against plaintiff, and even started harassing, threatening and intimidating the staff and cancer patients who were following plaintiff to his new practice.”
Williams claims that on July 4, 2011 defendant Delbert Morris called him “and threatened him that if he files a claim with the county, the county and he were prepared to destroy plaintiff and run him out of Modesto.”
Williams claims: “The defendants called multiple patients who have chosen to continue their treatment with plaintiff and told them that ‘Dr Williams has mental illness …’ ‘Dr Williams no longer practices medicine …’ ‘Dr Williams moved out of the state …’ ‘Dr Williams does not take Medi-Cal and Medicare patients …’ ‘If you go with Dr Williams, you will lose your Medi-Cal,’ which the defendants know all of their statements to be false.” (Ellipses in complaint.)
“The defendants also continued to interfere with plaintiff’s insurance credentials by calling Blue Cross and HealthNet insurance companies pretending to have authorization to speak on behalf of plaintiff’s new private office, and deliberately giving wrong information in an attempt to delay the opening of plaintiff’s new practice,” the complaint states.
Williams claims the defendants, particularly Lee and Morris, coached hospital agents to file false complaints against him in an attempt to have his hospital privileges revoked. He claims that between August 2011 and January 2012, “the defendants instructed hospital agents to delete completely plaintiff’s contact information from the hospital’s database. This was an attempt to prevent other doctors from contacting plaintiff in cases of an emergency for plaintiff’s own patients. This was done in an attempt to have plaintiff’s hospital privileges revoked for failure to provide care. Multiple doctors reported to plaintiff that they were not able to get a hold of him because defendants instructed agents of the hospital to delete all of plaintiff’s contact information. This would also make it difficult to refer any new patients to the plaintiff.”
Williams claims the egregious acts continue to this day. He claims the defendants have defamed him and continue to interfere with his ability to care for his patients.
He accuses them of “sending false letters to his patients notifying them that their appointment is ‘with Dr Williams’ at the County, practicing medicine under plaintiff’s name, contacting his patients by phone claiming to be representatives of plaintiff’s office and then booking the patients for appointments with the County and falsely telling the patients they will be seeing Dr. Williams at the County, and refusing to release complete medical records of his patients after the patients executed a proper form for the release of their medical records from the County to plaintiff’s private office. These actions even included telling both patients who were under active treatment and the consulting tertiary center physicians, to whom patients had been referred by the plaintiff, that they could no longer be seen by plaintiff because he had moved out of state.”
Williams seeks and injunction and punitive damages for whistleblower violations, retaliation for reporting misuse of state and federal funds, retaliation against a healthcare provider for advocating appropriate patient care, wrongful demotion, violation of his right to free speech, breach of contract, failure to pay wages and other benefits, defamation, and intentional interference with prospective advantage.
He is represented by James Margolis of San Francisco.