The former chief medical officer of D.C.’s only public hospital has filed a lawsuit against the hospital and its management consultants, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for testifying before District lawmakers about problems at the facility.
Julian Craig, who until December oversaw all clinical operations at United Medical Center in Southeast Washington, said in a complaint filed Thursday in D.C. federal court that he acted as a whistleblower to expose “malfeasance affecting patient health and safety” and “submission of fraudulent statements to Medicare and Medicaid.”
Craig alleges in his complaint that those practices were directed by executives working for Veritas of Washington, a consulting firm that in 2016 was awarded a no-bid contract worth more than $3.6 million per year to run the financially troubled hospital, with additional money for travel and lodging expenses for its executives.
The suit also asserts that Craig was not paid the full $320,000 salary agreed to in his contract, in violation of D.C. laws against wage theft, and that Veritas tried to cut his hours in a way that hurt his ability to ensure quality medical care for patients.
Craig names as defendants United Medical Center; Veritas and its chief executive, Luis Hernandez; and Corbett Price, the firm’s executive chairman.
A spokeswoman for Veritas and UMC declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
In a November letter to the hospital board, Veritas owner Chrystie Boucrée — Price’s wife — denied Craig’s accusations against the company, saying they were a “remarkably self-serving and false narrative” designed to aid Craig in a legal dispute with hospital managers.
Craig said in an interview Thursday that his disputes with the hospital had revolved not around his own financial gain but what was best for the poor and predominantly African American patients that UMC serves in Wards 7 and 8, as well as Prince George’s County, Md.
“I want to make sure that when it comes to the quality of health care these residents receive, it’s of the highest standard,” Craig said. “I feel that the operator really trampled on health care in Wards 7 and 8, and really set things back by several years.”
Craig’s lawsuit repeats many of the allegations he made in November during a surprise appearance at a public hearing by the D.C. Council’s health committee. A doctor of internal medicine and past president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, Craig joined three other former hospital executives in publicly criticizing Veritas.
Days later the D.C. Council voted not to extend the consulting firm’s contract, citing those criticisms, as well as concerns about patient safety. Veritas is preparing to hand control of the hospital to another management company, Mazars USA.
There have been at least three patient deaths in the past nine months that followed questionable medical care at UMC, including a man who died of a heart attack after crying out for help but being left on the floor by his nurse.
In August, regulators closed the hospital’s nursery and delivery rooms, citing unsafe conditions for pregnant women and babies.
Within weeks of Craig’s testimony, UMC board chairwoman LaRuby May, a former council member appointed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), sent Craig a letter stating that his contract would not be renewed. The letter did not give a reason for the termination.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said at the time that Craig’s ouster “looks like a classic retaliation to me.”
Craig’s complaint says that he “had the support of the medical staff at UMC” when he was fired and that “UMC’s nonrenewal of his contract was not the result of any deficiency in Dr. Craig’s performance.”
Craig’s lawsuit states that in addition to cuts to his own hours and pay, under Veritas’s direction the hospital “eliminated positions that were critical for protecting patient health and safety.”
Veritas officials have said that although some of those positions were eliminated after the company assumed control of the hospital, the layoffs had already been planned by UMC’s previous management.
Craig, who is seeking damages of an unspecified amount, also alleges that Hernandez “pressured doctors to admit patients who did not meet the medical criteria under Medicare and Medicaid laws, for the express purpose of improving the hospital’s finances.”
Boucrée said in her November letter that an investigation by an “independent legal team” had cleared Hernandez of wrongdoing. However, hospital officials have refused to share or discuss any records of that investigation.
A separate outside audit found that a number of patients had, in fact, been admitted without meeting the criteria of federal insurance programs, although it is not yet clear whether such improper admissions were more common under Veritas than previous managers.
The hospital returned roughly $2 million to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last year, and D.C.’s chief financial officer is looking into whether more money needs to be refunded.