By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — DAVENPORT — Testimony in the city of Clinton’s legal malpractice suit has focused on more than the people involved in emergency medical services.
In the second week of the city’s suit against attorney Michael Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner, testimony also explored the computer program Clinton Fire Department staff used to generate reports.
Walker represented the city in a federal False Claims Act suit brought on by former firefighter Timothy Schultheis in 2008. Schultheis claimed the city knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid in order to receive higher reimbursements.
The city claims Walker failed to properly analyze the case and his alleged negligence led to the city settling for $4.5 million in 2010. The city wants $4.67 million to cover the cost of the settlement as well as attorney and expert fees.
As Walker represented the city in the Schultheis case, problems with the patient care reports created using Firehouse software were brought to his attention.
When billing and coding expert Douglas Wolfberg looked at the reports Walker gave him, Wolfberg found duplicate reports that had different information such as the ALS or BLS codes. This apparent duplicate reporting concerned Wolfberg and stalled his work on the case, according to the portions of his deposition that were read into the record last week. Walker saw the duplicate bills as “red flags” or obstacles for the city’s defense, Walker testified.
Computer problems were a common occurrence at the fire department, EMS Director Andrew McGovern testified. The computer would frequently freeze and the Firehouse program would lose work previously done, he said.
Still, McGovern said he was surprised at the duplicate reports and called a Firehouse software representative when Walker brought the duplicate reports to his attention. A computer glitch had caused the old data on the reports to be overwritten with new data and the old data was not recoverable, McGovern testified. Walker was still concerned about the duplicates. He did not hire a computer expert to look into the duplicate report problem.
After the city had settled the Schultheis case and new information was brought to light by the Civil Service Commission hearing, former human resource director David Geisler conducted an investigation from December 2010 to April 2011. The city council, McGovern, and former fire chief Mark Regenwether asked him to look into the duplicate reports to determine if duplicate billing or upcoding occurred, Geisler testified last week. He also was charged with verifying McGovern’s claim that the software program had caused some of the reports to be overwritten.
Giesler, with McGovern’s help, looked at the reports contained in the summaries Walker had prepared in the underlying Schultheis case, Geisler said. He compared the original paper copy of the patient care report to the one contained on the computer to draw his conclusions.
Geisler testified he did not review the bills that were submitted to Medicare or Medicaid.
While Geisler’s report from that investigation wasn’t admitted as an exhibit, he was able to say that he found no wrongdoing on the city’s part. David Stanton, a Firehouse representative, has given an opinion as part of Walker’s defense in the legal malpractice suit that apparently disagrees with Geisler’s findings, though Stanton’s opinion hasn’t been read to the court.
The trial will continue today, with closing remarks and jury deliberations to start later this week.