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Wrongful termination, law-breaking alleged by ex-healthcare head

Whistleblowers are protected by California and federal laws from being punished for reporting workplace misconduct or illegal activities. In the medical community, that might include seeing evidence of fraud or other actions in conflict with laws.

A man who served as the interim head of Prima Medical Foundation has filed an employment lawsuit against his former employer. The ex-chief executive officer said he was fired for questioning policies that pressured Prima physicians to refer patients to Marin General Hospital and its affiliate ancillary service companies. A member of the foundation's board is the chief executive officer of Marin General.

The plaintiff also said the foundation's board obtained and misused private patient information. Board members allegedly abused patient privacy laws to learn whether Prima Medical Group doctors were issuing referrals for services outside Marin General-associated companies. Those doctors apparently were instructed to issue referrals benefiting the Marin businesses, despite the patient's medical needs – in other words, taking illegal kick-backs.

The plaintiff joined Prima Medical Foundation in January 2012 and was named the interim chief executive six months later. His objections to the foundation board's practices led to the man's firing in October 2013. The wrongful termination lawsuit seeks damages, including recovery of lost wages.

Marin General Hospital was the co-creator of the Prima Medical Foundation, along with the Meritage Medical Network. Meritage is a healthcare network representing 700 California doctors. Physicians who work for the Prima Medical Foundation are supplied by the Prima Medical Group, also financed by Meritage.

The man now at the helm of the Prima Medical Foundation said the ex-CEO's claim was "frivolous."

Employees who object to improper or illegal employer behaviors often suffer censure, abuse and wrongful termination. Employment attorneys assist workers with filing complaints through proper channels. When a claim is not resolved satisfactorily, lawyers may recommend going to court to settle a dispute over an employer's retaliatory actions.

Source: Marin Independent Journal, "Former Prima health exec files suit against foundation" Richard Halstead, Sep. 27, 2014

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