Friday, October 19, 2007

Emory University: Unraveling Sealed Records (Updated)

On October 5th, the AJC wrote this editorial,

Rather than await a court order, Emory and Grady ought to open the records for public inspection immediately. Emory, which supplies most of the attending physicians and residents-in-training at Grady, has already indicated it is willing for the full file to be unsealed if Murtagh, who no longer is employed by Emory, agrees.

Grady, which turned down Shafer's request for the records several weeks ago, should follow suit. If Grady is concerned that patient records might become public as a result, it can ask that those specific records be exempted or redacted.

Murtagh apparently sued Emory and Grady several times in 2000, alleging, among other things, that Emory broke a deal to name him chief of the pulmonary department. He also alleged that Emory and Grady conspired to defraud Medicare and Medicaid in how the two government health insurance programs compensated Grady and the medical school doctors for patient care at the hospital. Murtagh said he was cooperating with federal investigators, but no apparent federal action was taken against Grady or the medical school.

In response, Kent Alexander and Tim Jefferson, both legal counsels for Grady and Emory, wrote this

The AJC's Oct. 5 editorial "Come clean on lawsuit" resurrects (and misstates) old charges of conspiring to misuse government funds, charges the government reviewed seven years ago and declined to pursue. This has the devastating effect of casting public suspicion on two entities -- Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University -- that are working together in an increasingly challenging environment to meet the health needs of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The editorial surprisingly calls on Emory and Grady to open the sealed settlement and court records in a case involving Dr. James Murtagh. For the record, Emory and Grady did not move to seal the record; Murtagh did. Emory had already supported unsealing the proceedings -- the complete, entire record -- as had Grady. We simply awaited the doctor and court's approval.Judge Wendy Shoob has since unsealed the record, which is now of course fully open to the public. The real victim in all of this is Grady, the largest public health hospital in the Southeast. Grady is struggling to survive while misinformation circulates that, unintentionally or intentionally, diverts attention from the real issues.

Now, what they are talking about is a settlement between Dr. James Murtagh, former professor of pulmonology (anything related to the lungs) at Emory, and on staff at Grady for several years and at the V.A. hospital for another year. Now, I have already discussed in some detail the kind of corruption at both hospitals that lead to patients being taken care of by medical students with no supervision. What Dr. Murtagh alleged actually happened several years prior in the late 1990's.

Now, a couple months ago State Senator David Shafer was alerted to the settlement between Murtagh and Emory and he lead a group of six senators to unseal the records. Besides the incendiary nature of Murtagh's charges, Grady was one of the defendants in the case. If they settled and paid Murtagh then since Grady is a public hospital tax payer money was used. Here is how he saw it.

I have not yet seen any of the newly unsealed documents but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that Grady and Emory agreed to pay Dr. Murtagh the whopping sum of $1.6 million to settle his original whistleblower retaliation claims in 2001.

If Dr. Murtagh’s allegations were completely unfounded, why was he paid a single penny, let alone $1.6 million?

There are a couple errors in the AJC story. The documents unsealed today were from a case filed in late 2004 and pending until very recently, not the original whistleblower case settled in 2001. The more recent case was litigated under seal not at Dr. Murtagh’s request but because the 2001 settlement agreement required it.

Well, in fact Murtagh was paid $1.6 million,

defraud the U.S. government of millions of dollars through an improper use of federal funds in compensating Emory and Grady employees. Grady is a teaching
hospital where most Emory medical students are trained.

During the hearing on unsealing the case Friday, Emory and Grady attorneys denied that the facilities had done anything wrong.

While the entire case file was not available Friday, comments during the hearing and some Emory court papers shed some light on the case.

The two facilities entered into a settlement in 2001 that paid Murtagh and his attorneys about $1.6 million over 10 years. He has received about $550,000 so far. Emory paid the lion's share of the settlement with Grady contributing about $100,000.

While the sheer number of the settlement should raise all eyebrows especially when it is coupled with what I have reported about whistleblower and former medical student Kevin Kuritzky and and what I found from Dr. Samuel Newcom (who is also now under gag order though he wrote this beforehand), what is really interesting and not being reported is the details of the agreement.

I have been able to also see the settlement agreement and, besides paying Murtagh $1.6 million, which incidentally was to be spread over about ten years, the two parties agreed to a total blackout. Neither side was to speak to anyone. In fact, even if Dr. Murtagh was supboenad before testifying he had to get the judge's permission to testify and allow time for his testimony to be squashed. In other words, Murtagh was paid a big sum of money and he has been incommunicado ever since. Now, where I come from that is called hush money.

Thus, first when Alexander and Jefferson wrote that reply to the AJC editorial, it appears to this non lawyer that they were themselves violating the terms of the deal. Second, when they claimed that it was Murtagh that wanted the records sealed, they picked an easy target since they knew that he couldn't speak or risk jail. Third, and most importantly their assertion that it was Murtagh that fought to keep the records sealed defies all logic. Murtagh alleged all sorts of dastardly deeds by his employer. He was retaliated against, and then he sued. The suit was settled which included him getting a seven figure payout and a total blackout on both sides.

Now, in order to believe that Murtagh is the one that wants this kept quiet, one would need to believe that not only did Emory and Grady agree to pay him $1.6 million but he also got them to agree to keep quiet about the case. I know how hush money works, and one person is paid and that same person is told to be quiet. Thus, when Jefferson and Alexander claim that their side wanted the records unsealed all along, not only are they most likely violating the very agreement they signed, but they are being totally disingenuous.

Of course, Emory is more that welcome to respond and I do believe they know about my blog.

Incidentally, if you want to hear Kuritzky in his own words follow the link and play the audio


If some of you have tried some of the links, mainly those to the original AJC article and Emory's response, you may have found that they no longer exist. To get the full scoop follow this link and see just how far some will go to hide their malfeasance.

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