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Lake Success law group sues NUMC to get contract information

An aerial view of Nassau University Medical

An aerial view of Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Photo Credit: FlyingDogPhotos.com / Kevin P. Coughlin

A Lake Success law group has sued the Nassau University Medical Center, alleging the public hospital has refused repeatedly to provide information about a “massive” contract it awarded to the Abrams Fensterman law firm soon after the hospital’s top lawyer became a partner in the firm.

The Russell Friedman Law Group contends in a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in State Supreme Court that former Republican State Assemb. Thomas Alfano left his position in January as acting general counsel for the Nassau Health Care Corp., the public benefit corporation that runs the hospital, to join Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara, Wolf & Carone, also of Lake Success.

“Coinciding with the arrival of Thomas Alfano,” the lawsuit states, “Abrams Fensterman was granted a massive contract . . . Specifically, Abrams Fensterman was awarded the sole rights to prosecute all collections cases stemming from patients treated as a result of automobile accidents by NUMC under the personal injury protection coverage of the patients’ auto policies, as well as self-insured entities responsible for the payment.”

The lawsuit alleges the hospital did not give public notice of its intent to award the contract, did not solicit bids as required by state law and did not respond to Freedom of Information requests for documents related to the deal.

Alfano and Howard Fensterman, managing partner of Abrams Fensterman, deny any impropriety in obtaining the collections contract.

“We are a corporate health care compliance firm. We know and abide by the rules,” Alfano said in an interview.

The suit does not accuse Alfano or Abrams Fensterman of wrongdoing. “This lawsuit is purely to compel disclosure of the documents,” said Charles Horn, a partner in the Friedman group. “The documents will tell the tale.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order the hospital to provide the requested documents and pay legal fees. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 27 before Justice Robert Bruno.

Horn acknowledged in an interview that his law group had done the collections work as a subcontractor for the hospital’s prior billing company. He said the group had asked NUMC to put the work out for bid but received no response.

Spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said NUMC does not comment on pending litigation. “All of our contracts are and have been procured appropriately and legally.”

Fensterman said his firm has been an approved NUMC vendor for more than a decade, and that Russell Friedman “shouldn’t have been doing any work” as an unvested subcontractor. Fensterman said he and Alfano were “profoundly aware” of NUMC’s rule against former employees doing business with the hospital for two years.

“I had nothing to do with that contract in any way, shape or form,” Alfano said. “I have nothing to do with NUMC matters until that [two-year] period is finished.”

Russell Friedman, the group’s founder, said he found it “curious” that Fensterman “is even getting involved in this at this level since the lawsuit is really about the failure of NUMC to answer a FOIL request.” Friedman said NUMC was “well aware” of his firm’s collections work for the past four or five years and benefited from it.

According to the lawsuit, Russell Friedman submitted 25 Freedom of Information Law requests since April for documents relating to the collections contract, but NUMC “refused to provide responses” to 20 of them.

The firm alleges the hospital was late in acknowledging the FOIL requests and then sent the same form letter response: “We estimate that it will take approximately 20 business days from today to produce a response to your request, including determining the existence and availability of the requested records.” The firm said it received the same response, containing “identical verbiage,” even when it appealed to NUMC president Victor Politi.

NUMC’s newest FOIL officer Eric Zeni, hired in July for $198,000, sent the same form letter to Newsday in response to four pending FOIL requests, including a copy of NUMC’s payroll. To date, Zeni has not provided any of the information requested.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, who looked at a copy of the Russell Friedman lawsuit, said, “The Freedom of Information law states that any delay in responding to a request must be reasonable based upon the facts and circumstances. Since this is October, it would appear that the failure to respond by this time would be unreasonable and inconsistent with law.”

Freeman added, “Some requests can easily be handled. For example, FOIL requires that every agency maintain a payroll record that includes the names, titles and salaries of all employees. That must be made available without any delay because it must exist and employees are usually paid every two weeks.”

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