Shuttered Chicago hospital sued in two patient deaths

Lawsuit alleges that patients died during unnecessary procedures

Two families are suing the now-shuttered Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago for allegedly performing unnecessary procedures that led to the death of their relatives, Crain's Chicago Business reports.

Background on the Sacred Heart shutdown

The federal government raided the 119-bed hospital in April, arresting its CEO Edward Novak, another executive, and four physicians. Federal authorities allege that Novak—who acquired Sacred Heart in 1988—paid thousands of dollars a month to physicians in exchange for referrals that defrauded Medicare and Medicaid.

According to the FBI affidavit, a physician and two hospital administrators secretly taped their coworkers discussing the push to perform tracheotomies, which the CEO reportedly said were the hospital's "biggest moneymaker" and worth roughly $160,000 per case. In one case, a physician—who the FBI has dubbed "Physician D"—allegedly over-sedated patients so they were unable to breathe on their own and performed unnecessary tracheotomies, at Novak's behest.  

On July 1, Sacred Heart closed its doors and moved patients to other facilities, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The next day, the hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to gain protection from its creditors.

Why the families filed suit

In a lawsuit filed last week, relatives of Katheryn Robinson and Walter Bruce said that the two patients were sedated and underwent unnecessary tracheotomies so that the hospital could garner additional Medicare payments. Both patients—who were treated by "Physician D"—suffered fatal complications during the procedures.

"You're never going to see a more flagrant violation of the Hippocratic oath than in this case," says attorney Joseph Curcio.

Curcio has filed the lawsuit under federal and state racketeering laws, an unusual strategy for such a case, according to Crain's Chicago Business. Successful plaintiffs in racketeering cases are entitled to triple the amount in damages. Curcio also plans to file negligence suits on behalf of the patients.

Federal prosecutors have until Aug. 13 to charge the defendants, according to the U.S. District Court in Chicago (Wang, Modern Healthcare/Crain's Chicago Business, 7/30 [subscription required]).

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