July 6, 2015

Appeals court orders Sumter hospital to pay $237 million judgment

Image: Tuomey Healthcare System

Image: Tuomey Healthcare System

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a $237 million judgment against a Sumter hospital accused of filing false Medicare claims in a kickback case.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Tuomey Healthcare System’s challenge to a 2013 federal finding. The jury determined Tuomey had signed doctors to lucrative, part-time contracts from 2005 to 2009 to ensure that the hospital would get referral fees from procedures those physicians performed on Medicare patients. Federal law considers such an arrangement to be an illegal kickback. 

The jury found that Tuomey improperly submitted nearly 22,000 false claims to Medicare worth $39 million under that arrangement. The government was awarded additional damages and civil penalties bringing the total to $237 million.

A year earlier, a separate jury cleared the hospital of any wrongdoing. But the judge determined he had improperly excluded some testimony and ordered a new trial.

The hospital’s attorneys had argued in their appeal filings that the penalty was excessive, saying the $237 million price tag could cause the hospital to close. The hospital is already working on a potential merger with Columbia-based Palmetto Health in an effort to stay open.

Following Thursday’s ruling, hospital President and CEO Michelle Logan-Owens said she was disappointed with the outcome. “However, for more than 100 years we have been providing healthcare services in this community, and we stand firm in our resolve to continue our mission,” she posted in a statement. “I am confident that we will find an appropriate resolution which will allow Tuomey to close this chapter and emerge strongly and successfully in our potential collaboration with Palmetto Health.”

The hospital has 45 days to request a reconsideration of the case, should they choose to take that step.

Tuomey Healthcare has about 1,700 employees.


Controversial former governor’s portrait vandalized at Winthrop University

Tillman Hall (Image: Winthrop University)

Tillman Hall (Image: Winthrop University)

Winthrop University officials say a portrait of controversial former South Carolina governor Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman was vandalized Thursday morning

The school’s president Dan Mahony wrote in an email that someone had written “violent racist” in red paint across the portrait. “Ben Tillman was inarguably a racist, however, that fact does not justify vandalism,” Mahony wrote. “Campus police are conducting an investigation of the incident and anyone found responsible will be held accountable.”

Tillman was perhaps the most divisive figure to ever govern South Carolina, leading the state from 1890-1894 and serving as U.S. senator after that until his death in 1918. The Democrat pushed for segregationist principles and helped eliminate the last vestiges of voting rights most African-American men obtained after the Civil War. However, he was also a key figure in the founding of Clemson University and establishing Winthrop’s present-day campus. The vandalized portrait hung in the school’s Tillman Hall.

Tillman’s statue at the Statehouse also had red paint thrown at it earlier this week.

A Winthrop University Police report stated that a staffer with the school’s foundation had called officers after she spotted a “thin, White Male wearing a green ball cap” who she saw writing on the portrait. She told the officer she had noticed the man on her way to the restroom. She said the man then turned around and looked at her before running out of the building. Police did not find the suspect. There are no security cameras at Tillman Hall.

The school estimates the vandalism caused about $3,000 in damage to the portrait.

Meanwhile, the Rock Hill Herald reports the incident happened just hours after someone apparently broke a first-floor window at the building during an overnight break-in. Nothing was reported missing and the two acts do not appear related, a school spokesman told the newspaper.

Tillman statue on Statehouse grounds vandalized

A maintenance employee pressure washes the Tillman statue after the damage was found Tuesday

A maintenance employee pressure washes Tillman’s statue after the damage was found Tuesday

The law enforcement agency which provides security for South Carolina’s Statehouse in Columbia confirmed Tuesday that a statue of former Gov. Benjamin Tillman had been defaced with red paint.

Lt. Kelly Hughes, a Highway Patrol trooper who works with the state Department of Public Safety said an officer spotted what appeared to be red paint on the statue’s right leg around 10:00 am Tuesday morning. Paint was also splashed on the pedestal. Division of General Services crews worked to remove the stains on Tuesday afternoon.

Hughes said it appeared someone had thrown a small balloon containing red paint at the statue.

Tillman was perhaps the most controversial figure to ever govern South Carolina, leading the state from 1890-1894 and serving as U.S. senator after that until his death in 1918. The Democrat pushed for segregationist principles and helped eliminate the last vestiges of voting rights most African-American men obtained after the Civil War.

The vandalism was the third security breach on the Capitol grounds in slightly more than three days. On Saturday, a protester climbed a flagpole holding the Confederate battle flag and removed the flag briefly before her arrest. On Monday, several pro-flag and anti-flag protesters got into a brawl in front of the flag. Officers arrested an Irmo man for his role in the fight.

Additional officers and DPS vehicles were visible at the Statehouse Tuesday.

Tillman was instrumental in the founding of what is now Clemson University and creating the first federal ban on corporate campaign funding (known as the “Tillman Act”). However, it is his connections with Edgefield County’s “Red Shirts” that garners the most negative attention. He was indicted (though never prosecuted) for his role in the Hamburg Massacre roughly 15 years before becoming governor and his allies had a reputation for voter intimidation and violence during election campaigns. He was also a key figure in creating the 1896 state constitution that effectively ended most black voting in South Carolina.


Irmo man arrested after fighting protesters at Statehouse

Law enforcement officers at the Statehouse in Columbia say an Irmo man was arrested Monday after a fight broke out between apparent Confederate flag supporters and a group of about 30 protesters rallying against its presence at the Capitol.

A Department of Public Safety release said 25-year-old Nicholas Thompson was charged with disorderly conduct. The fight marred what had been mostly peaceful opposing rallies up to that point.

Bureau of Public Safety officers (who provide security at the Statehouse) reported a group of about 15 vehicles with pro-flag supporters pulled up on Gervais Street in front of the Statehouse just after 7:00 p.m. and stopped in the middle of the street. The officers said about eight to 10 occupants then got out of the vehicles and “began to engage in an altercation with the crowd.” Thompson had been inside one of the vehicles and was the first to approach the flag protesters.

BPS and additional law enforcement were able to contain the situation. The SC Highway Patrol, University of South Carolina Police and Columbia Police Department responded to the scene as well. Protesters remained on the Statehouse grounds two hours later, although police had shut down the block of Gervais Street that passes in front of the flag.

Both pro-flag and anti-flag protesters had gathered at the base of the flag earlier in the evening. A WLTX reporter had even tweeted out video of some members from both groups praying together.

SC NAACP leader calls for ‘patience’ after activist removes Confederate flag

The Southern Poverty Law Center posted video of Newsome taking down the flag (SPLC)

The Southern Poverty Law Center posted video of Newsome taking down the flag on its Facebook page Saturday (SPLC)

South Carolina’s NAACP chapter is urging “patience” among its members after a North Carolina activist climbed up and removed the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds Saturday.

“Impatience must always be tempered by purpose and prudence,” State Conference President Lonnie Randolph, Jr., said in a statement. “Given the actions of the South Carolina General Assembly in the last several days, we ask everyone who shares our impatience and our disapproval of the flag to be patient and permit the General Assembly the opportunity to take its vote in July to at last remove this hurtful symbol from the people’s State House.”

30-year-old Brittany “Bree” Newsome of Raleigh was arrested once she climbed down from the pole at dawn Saturday. Several Bureau of Public Safety officers had spotted her using climbing gear to get up to the flag. Both she and another individual James Tyson of Charlotte were arrested for going inside the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the flag.

Both were charged with “defacing a monument.” Newsome is black, while Tyson is white. Another replacement flag was put up moments later. [Read more…]