Feds Examining King's Daughters Heart Stent Procedures

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ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland is known as one of the best heart hospitals in our region. But Wednesday, Hospital officials confirmed since 2011, federal prosecutors have been looking into whether some doctors at the hospital were implanting metal mesh devices, known as stents, in some patients who may not have needed them.

The probe is all part of a bigger U.S. Department of Justice investigation that started in 2006. It focuses on allegations that hospitals across the country billed public health programs for unnecessary stents to make extra cash.

The investigation points to an analysis by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care that shows in 2010, physicians in Ashland conducted some type of stent procedure on on 27 out of every 1,000 Medicare enrollees. That's nearly 3.5 times higher than the national average.

A report by Bloomberg.com this week said King's Daughters performed 28 percent more stent-related procedures in 2011 than any other hospital in Kentucky.

KMDC has also been named in a civil lawsuit, along with its former cardiologist, Dr. Richard Paulus. The suit was filed Sept. 30 by a patient who claims Dr. Paulus gave him multiple unnecessary stents. The patient says this caused several health issues, including an allergic reaction that causes swelling, hives and joint pain.

On Wednesday, KDMC released this statement from its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Phil Fioret:

"KDMC has been transparent in its communications with its patients, its Medical Staff and the community about the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into cardiac stent procedures performed by physicians at KDMC. We take this matter very seriously and since 2011, much of KDMC's financial resources have gone to its efforts to cooperate with the government's investigation. While the government's review is continuing, it is not surprising that civil lawsuits would be filed related to these same issues. As with any investigation and litigation matters, KDMC cannot comment on the specifics of any of these matters no matter how much we would like to.

KDMC is here for patient care and service to the community. We are working hard to keep focused on this fact while the legal issues are being addressed. The safety of our patients and the provision of exceptional care to our community will always be our first priorities. To that end, KDMC has been working with Dr. Bonnie Weiner at the Accreditation of Cardiac Excellence (ACE), a nationally recognized peer review organization of cardiac catheterization services. ACE has worked with us to proactively provide enhanced oversight of our cardiac services as well as to facilitate implementation of state of the art processes. As a physician, I am confident in the cardiology services that our hospital continues to provide and I believe KDMC has taken every necessary measure to ensure outstanding quality patient care."

WSAZ.com has tried contacted the attorney for Dr. Paulus. However, he has yet to respond to our requests for a statement.

KDMC spokesman Tom Dearing says the federal investigation along with other factors, including the downturn in the economy and recent changes in insurances, led to the hospital's recent layoffs of 150 employees.

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