Texas Hospitals Fined $15M for Malpractice, Booking Beyond Capacity

Three hospitals have agreed to pay a $15 million fine to resolve charges that they violated Medicare regulations by performing concurrent surgeries.

According to a June 24 statement from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Surgical Associates of Texas will jointly pay $15 million for billing concurrent heart surgeries, a practice that violates the Medicare Teaching Physician and Informed Consent regulation.

The Justice Department launched the investigation in August 2019 after receiving a whistleblower complaint alleging that three heart surgeons from St. Luke’s, Dr. Joseph Coselli, Dr. David Ott, and Dr. Joseph Lamelas, regularly ran two operating rooms simultaneously by “delegating key aspects of extremely complicated and risky heart surgeries” to medical residents who were not qualified to perform the surgeries.

Among the procedures conducted by unqualified residents were valve repairs, aortic repairs, and coronary artery bypass grafts.

The Medicare Teaching Physician and Informed Consent regulation dictates when a teaching physician is permitted to leave the operating theater during surgery, no matter how simple or complex.

The whistleblower revealed that Drs. Coselli, Lamelas, and Ott violated the regulation in some respect between June 3, 2013, and December 21, 2020.

The surgeons regularly ran two operations at once while failing to attend what is called the surgical “timeout,” namely the critical moment in surgery when the team pauses to identify key risks in the procedure as a way to prevent errors, according to the allegations.

The surgeons were also accused of entering a second or sometimes third operation without first designating another surgeon as a backup.

These activities were then hidden by the surgeons who falsely attested in medical records that they were physically present in the operating theater the entire time.

Additionally, the medical staff never informed the patients that the surgeon would occasionally leave the operating theater during the procedure to attend to another surgery.

According to the US Attorney’s Office, the $15 million fine is the largest settlement involving concurrent surgeries.