Originally created 02/18/99

Hospital awaiting decision



It may be weeks before officials at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics learn whether the state will ask for indigent care money back.

What MCG is facing may just be the first instance in the state as the Department of Medical Assistance seeks to do a first-ever audit of Indigent Care Trust Fund money distributed to 88 hospitals in the state.

MCG hospital officials met Tuesday with state officials to discuss a report from the State Health Care Fraud Control Unit that alleges $74,000 in indigent money was misspent in a $1.4 million program called the Family Connection Resource Center Project. Although no criminal wrongdoing was found, the report strongly suggested that the money be returned to the state.

But nothing conclusive was decided in the meeting Tuesday, said DMA Commissioner William Taylor. Because it is a unique case -- with the investigation being done by another state agency -- the DMA needs to look over the findings the hospital is disputing and meet with the fraud control unit, which is part of the Georgia Attorney General's Office. That could take weeks to sort out, Dr. Taylor said. MCG has asked them to resolve the issue as swiftly as possible, said Patricia Sodomka, executive director of the hospital and clinics.

In the meantime, the Department of Audits and Accounts has begun the audit of the indigent care dollars sent to Georgia hospitals, Dr. Taylor said. Each hospital must spend 15 percent of the funds on primary care and submit a plan to the state for how it will be spent, Dr. Taylor said. The department is going back to make sure the funds were spent as reported and also to examine whether the indigent care amounts reported to the state -- which are used to determine how much a hospital will get -- were accurate, Dr. Taylor said.

"In the past, we haven't had the same rigor of accountability we've had with Medicaid dollars," Dr. Taylor said. "We're concerned about the follow-through on the primary care plans, and we're also concerned about the estimates (the hospitals provide). Whenever you have a situation without some kind of check and you have self-reported information, particularly in financial (reports), there is the possibility that things will be interpreted to overestimate or include things that are questionable as indigent care."

The hospitals also would welcome the state's setting clear standards for spending the indigent care money, Mrs. Sodomka said.

"There needs to be clarification up front as to what is and is not appropriate," Mrs. Sodomka said.

While dealing with the indigent care issue, MCG hospital officials also are trying to trim more than $1.4 million from this year's budget, Mrs. Sodomka said. The plan is being submitted to MCG President Francis J. Tedesco and may be approved within a week, Mrs. Sodomka said. Layoffs are not being considered in the plan, she said. MCG also faces cutting $11 million from next fiscal year's budget, which begins July 1.

Tom Corwin covers science and medicine for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.