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Lessons from government investigation of UNC Hospital

Any number of events can trigger a government investigation of a medical facility. The government may receive an anonymous tip, billing practices may lead to a red flag or, as recently highlighted in a case involving the University of North Carolina's (UNC) Congenital Heart Program, negative publicity can snowball and fuel a closer look by government officials.

What led to this investigation?

Unknown sources released secret recordings of meetings within the hospital to the New York Times. These recordings included a meeting of pediatric cardiologist where the chief of the group stated the team was "in crisis." The newspaper published these recordings, along with the results of an investigation into the unit's infant mortality rate for complex cardiac procedures.

To say the story was unfavorable is an understatement.

What were the results of the investigation?

After the report, North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services conducted an investigation of the facility. The investigation included a review of the facility's treatment and services as well as its delivery of care procedure. The investigation was set to determine whether or not the facility me the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Conditions of Participation.

The facility passed the inspection. The agency recently reported that it found "no current deficiencies" after completing its investigation of the hospital's operations.

What can other facilities learn from this case?

This case provides an example of the far-reaching impact of allegations of wrongdoing. The facility received negative publicity that grew into a federal investigation. The facility has stopped performing certain procedures as a result of the investigation. The facility has chosen not only to go by the results of a government review before restarting this program, but also using an external advisory board.

The publicity came at great cost to the facility. Fortunately, it was able to pass the inspection and is taking a proactive approach to better ensure its reputation rebounds from the expose. Other facilities can employ a similar strategy by reaching out to legal counsel when the subject of a federal investigation. Your counsel will better ensure your rights are protected throughout the investigation, and represent your interests in the event the allegations evolve into charges of wrongdoing.

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