Sentara Healthcare defends Sightpath contract


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sentara Healthcare on Monday defended its decision to do business with a medical supplier accused of bribing physicians, also explaining that one of those physicians is affiliated with but not employed by Sentara.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota announced a $12 million-plus settlement between the federal government and Sightpath Medical, a firm that provides technology and services for eye surgeries to hospitals nationwide. The settlement resolves claims from a whistleblower that Sightpath has been paying “kickbacks” to physicians to secure business with them.

The whistleblower’s lawsuit alleges that local ophthalmologist Dr. Jitendra Swarup accepted luxury vacations and excessive consulting fees to use and promote Sightpath’s products. Swarup is not party to Sightpath’s settlement and denies any wrongdoing, his attorney, Marc Raspanti, told The Daily Advance last week. Raspanti also said Swarup has had no part in hospitals’ decisions to continue using Sightpath products.

Asked about its continued business relationship with both Sightpath and Swarup, Sentara Albemarle Medical Center spokeswoman Annya Soucy said Monday the hospital uses Sightpath as a vendor for cataract lenses. She noted that Sentara inherited the contract with Sightpath when it leased Albemarle Hospital, the hospital’s former operating name, in 2014.

“This contract, as with all contracts, was reviewed and subjected to fair market value assessment upon the initiation of Sentara’s management of SAMC,” Soucy said in an email.

Asked about the allegations against Swarup, Soucy noted he is not employed by Sentara but is a member of the hospital’s medical staff. The hospital’s medical staff is independent and “self-governing,” she reported. It also sets its own bylaws for the conduct of members, she noted.

Soucy said the hospital’s medical staff may revoke or limit a member’s privileges for one of the following reasons: if they are ineligible to enroll in Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly; if a state medical board acts against them; or if the member is convicted of a felony.

Neither the N.C. Medical Board nor the Virginia Board of Medicine have taken action against Swarup, who is licensed to practice medicine in both states. He’s also paid no malpractice claims, the two medical board websites show. 

Sentara does consider allegations that any medical provider has received kickbacks a serious matter, Soucy said.

“Sentara does not tolerate kickback schemes and takes every measure to ensure its employees and employed providers are not participating in illegal kickback activities, including audits of our physicians,” she said.

She also reported Sentara staff are trained annually on policies and laws regarding kickbacks, and that “all monies Sentara expends on physician activity, such as dinners or celebrations,” is reported and tracked annually to ensure they’re following laws and policies. Sentara also offers a hotline for employees to report violations, she reported.