When Lori Cook was hired in 2011 as a billing manager at Harrison Home Care—a subsidiary of Harrison Medical Center—she inherited an extensive backlog of Medicare billings. But with 37 years of hospital experience under her belt, she was up to the task.
Soon after she began trying to pare down Harrison’s backlog, however, Cook found billing irregularities with Medicare fraud implications. She found that Harrison had for years been running Medicare revenue-reporting software daily, even though the software instructions said it should only be run once a month.
Cook continued the practice of running the revenue-reporting software daily until it became clear that it was resulting in “systematic up charging” of Medicare reimbursements. After reporting her findings to a superior, Cook claims that she was blamed for the problem, placed on leave, and then told that she may have been the one committing Medicare fraud. Ultimately, Cook claims she was fired from Harrison in retaliation for reporting her findings.
Unshaken by her treatment, Cook filed a whistleblower lawsuit, alleging retaliation and wrongful termination. According to the Seattle Times, Harrison denied the allegations and argued that Cook’s case should be thrown out because the company never submitted false claims for Medicare reimbursement.
After three days of testimony in U.S. District Court, a Tacoma jury sided with Cook, finding that her actions were protected by whistleblower provisions under the False Claims Act and that Harrison knew that she was protected but still retaliated against her. Cook was awarded $939,192 in lost future wages, and $222,547 each for emotional damages and lost past wages.
It’s difficult to stand up for what’s right in the face of a company’s bullying and threats. In this case, Lori Cook decided that she wasn’t going to be intimidated and pressured into keeping her mouth shut. Her tenacity in filing a lawsuit against her former employer should be lauded.
If you feel you have suffered retaliation as a result of reporting possible corporate fraud, you should speak to a whistleblower attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible.