June 13, 2013 | Vol. 111, No. 24

PMC accused of Whistleblower Act violation

Former Petersburg Medical Center Business Office Manager Ramona Thompson has accused PMC administration of violating the Alaska Whistleblower Act along with other serious infractions dealing with Medicare contracts and billing office errors that could cost PMC more than $3 million in fines.

Thompson prepared a statement to be read to the PMC Hospital Board during its regular meeting May 23 and was terminated only five minutes prior to this meeting.

“It was well known that I had prepared a report to be read to the board,” Thompson said. “Minutes before the meeting, I was called to the Chief Financial Officer’s office. I asked them to wait until after the meeting or the following morning and was handed a letter of termination effective immediately. I believe they were trying to keep me from making my report to the board.”

Thompson was hired by CFO Leon Walsh and she was moved from Montana. Thompson began work Oct. 15, 2012.

“I was given an offer of employment letter. The CFO specifically asked about the length of commitment I could give to the position,” Thompson said. “I told him I could commit until my retirement.”

According to Thompson, Oct 17, after only two days of working she was told that the business office was about to be outsourced.

“I got really concerned about my job at that time,” Thompson stated. “I had moved myself all the way here, my things are still in storage and now I don't know if I will have a job.”

Thompson stated that she did not have a contract with PMC but she felt the offer was made for a long term position.

From October to the day of her termination, Thompson had cited several errors in the business office that could cost the organization millions in fines.

These errors and omissions in paperwork were brought to the attention of the CFO by email in February of this year.

“I made sure everyone knew that these problems would cost the hospital a lot of money,” Thompson said. “I was told by the CFO that the facility had already received a warning from Medicare but did not work to correct the problem.”

Thompson stated that she never received a review after six months, that she was promised and had never had a derogatory statement said against her work or her personally in her file.

Alaska is an at-will employment state which means it’s an employment arrangement in which the employee may quit at any time, and the employer may fire the employee for any reason that is not illegal.

Thompson is accusing PMC of violating the Whistleblower Protection Act as well as firing her without cause.

According to State Statute, anyone can be terminated for any reason, or none at all as long as it does not break the law.

The Alaska Whistleblower Act, AS 39.90.100 - 39.90.150, however, prohibits public employers from discharging, threatening, or otherwise discriminating against employees for reporting matters of public concern to a public body. Whistleblower protection extends to those who have made, or are about to make, reports on matters of public concern, as well as those who participate in court actions, investigations, hearings or inquiries on matters of public concern.

“This community needs this hospital,” Thompson said. “If things are not corrected quickly, this hospital will not have the funds to remain open.”

The information gleaned by Thompson has been forwarded to the Attorney General and she is seeking legal counsel.

Chief Executive Officer Liz Woodyard and Chief Financial Officer Leon Walsh were unavailable for comment by the time this article went to press.

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