A Georgia clinic and its CEO have agreed to a settlement in order to resolve allegations of violating federal law in prescribing opioids. The whistleblower suit alleges that the lone physician for the clinic would come in one afternoon per week and sign off on stacks of prescriptions, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
On August 3, 2021, North Georgia Healthcare Center, and its CEO, Delaine Hunter, agreed to pay the federal government $130,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee. According to the Department of Justice, Hunter and her clinic violated the False Claims Act from January 2012 to September 2018, when they billed the federal government for medical claims that were determined to be “medically unnecessary.”
The clinic’s doctor, Dr. Gary Smith, agreed to a separate settlement in which he is excluded from all federal health care programs for a decade. Despite being accused of improperly prescribing opioids without appropriate medical review and judgment of medical necessity, the Georgia Composite Medical Board records show that Dr. Smith is still actively licensed to practice as a doctor, and state records show he is still actively licensed as a pharmacist with no recent disciplinary actions, according to the AJC.
Both Dr. Smith and North Georgia Healthcare Center’s settlements were accepted. By taking these deals, there was no determination of liability for anyone involved.
The lawsuit accuses North Georgia Healthcare Center of using uncredentialed and unqualified medical staff to evaluate patients and prescribe treatment plans. If true, this would violate Georgia law, which states that only physicians can write prescriptions for opioids and other Schedule II drugs. Additionally, if a physician’s assistant decides that opioids are necessary, the doctor supervising them must also determine that the drugs are medically necessary and must be the one to sign the prescription.
While the clinic has been fined and Dr. Smith has been excluded from federal programs, there has been no action taken to shut down the clinic or professionally discipline Dr. Smith.