Lawmakers criticize Fletcher Allen settlement

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(Host) Critics of this week’s settlement between prosecutors and Fletcher Allen Health Care say they’ll ask a federal judge to reject the plan. They argue that the million dollar fine imposed against the hospital will be paid for by consumers and that “a culture of arrogance” still exists at the facility.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Northfield Representative Ann Donahue was one of the people who helped uncover the effort by the state’s largest hospital to conceal the true cost of its massive expansion plan known as the Renaissance Project. Two years ago state regulators gave their approval to a proposal to spend $173 million on the project, but concerns about the financing of a parking garage led to the discovery that the project would cost at least $362 million.

The settlement reached between Fletcher Allen, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Vermont Attorney General’s office calls for the hospital to pay a one million dollar fine. Representative Donahue thinks the settlement is a mistake because consumers will most likely end up paying for the fine through higher hospital charges:

(Donahue) “Here this is a massive public policy issue. The irony of settlements like this is they happen behind the scenes, they’re secret, they’re negotiated by Fletcher Allen – which is supposed to be the one under investigation – they get to negotiate in secret on how they settle it?”

(Kinzel) Instead of imposing a fine, Donahue wants a federal judge reviewing the settlement to order the hospital to fund a new position of an independent ombudsman at the facility:

(Donahue) “…whose role would be enforcing the transparency on management functions and board functions, and also thereby becoming a mechanism for staff and consumers to be able to – almost an alternative type whistleblower protection.”

(Kinzel) Attorney General William Sorrell says the settlement didn’t call for a larger fine because he didn’t want consumers to be saddled with the additional expense. And Sorrell says there’s no doubt that the management at Fletcher Allen has gotten a strong message from the settlement.

(Sorrell) “They still know they have a lot of work to do to get in the good graces of the community. They’ve acknowledged serious wrongdoing on the part of individual or individuals acting on behalf of the hospital.”

(Kinzel) Sorrell says the settlement doesn’t prevent prosecutors from filing criminal charges against former hospital officials. Donahue says she hopes those charges will be filed in the near future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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