Nassau University Medical Center has settled a lawsuit by its former chief financial officer who alleged he was fired for blowing the whistle on an effort to overstate the number of patients with COVID-19 that NUMC treated in 2020, court records show.
John Maher, who had held his post since January 2012, was terminated in June 2020.
His suit said the firing came after he disputed NUMC's decision to say the hospital had treated 900 COVID-positive patients in 2020 in its application for reimbursement from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as CARES.
Maher determined the correct figure was 625 using an “exacting process” that relied on “multiple data points," the suit alleges.
The hospital's consultant hired to help in the CARES Act submission confirmed to Maher he had calculated the number correctly, the suit said.
Hospital officials declined to disclose the terms of the settlement.
Maher's attorney, Jason Solotaroff, declined to comment on the litigation or disclose a settlement amount.
Newsday filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking the amount NuHealth, the public benefit corporation also known as Nassau Health Care Corp. that operates NUMC, paid Maher to settle the case.
“As is standard, we do not comment on matters involving former employees. The settlement agreement was entered into at the direction of the CEO and approval conveyed by the former Chairman of the Board," of NuHealth, Niki Jones, a hospital spokeswoman, said in a statement to Newsday.
Edward Farbenblum, who was board chairman at the time of the settlement, resigned as a NuHealth trustee in May.
Dr. Anthony Boutin, NuHealth CEO and president, said, “I do not comment on litigation, but can confidently say that there was no wrongdoing.”
Maher's annual salary was $298,412, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. The comptroller's office is in the process of calculating Maher's pension payment, an agency spokeswoman said.
The dispute involved NuHealth's general counsel and chief compliance officer, Megan Ryan and then-NuHealth chairman Robert Detor.
The suit alleges that Ryan, “informed Mr. Maher, per the hospital consultants, that the number of COVID-19 positive patients should be increased to 900.”
Maher said he requested an opinion from the consultants, who told him, “the original process to determine the number of 625 COVID-19 positive patients was accurate and should be used," according to the lawsuit.
When Maher "reported this to [Ryan] … she directed him again to certify that there were 900 COVID-19 positive patients,” the suit says.
Detor also told Maher to use the 900-patient figure, the suit alleges.
On April 24, 2020, Maher “received an email from Mr. Detor, which accused Mr. Maher of not being a team player," according to the lawsuit.
"In the ensuing correspondence, Mr. Maher explained that it did not appear the higher number could be justified," according to the suit.
In a telephone conversation on April 25, "Mr. Detor yelled at Mr. Maher and told him that his whistleblowing would not be tolerated and would be one of the reasons he would be fired.”
Two days later, “Mr. Detor informed Mr. Maher that [NuHealth] had suspended his employment.”
Detor declined to comment on the litigation.
NuHealth lawyers denied Maher's account in court papers, acknowledging only that Maher handled the CARES Act grant application and was suspended and terminated.
Attorneys for NUMC said in court filings that NuHealth, “accurately reported the number of COVID-19 positive cases in its grant application."
NuHealth has accepted a total of $123,464,576 in federal funding from the Provider Relief Fund, which the CARES Act largely funds, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Provider Relief Fund.
Detor said increasing the number of COVID-19 patients to 900 would bring an additional $20 million in federal funding to NUMC, according to the suit.
Maher's attorneys said in court papers: “Maher contends that NHCC terminated his employment in retaliation for his opposition to potential health care fraud related to NHCC’s application for a COVID-related grant and terminated him in violation of his employment agreement which provided for a severance payment of one year’s base salary.”
Correction: John Maher was the chief financial officer of Nassau University Medical Center. An earlier version of this story had the wrong title.