BBH employed doctor convicted of Medicaid fraud

State health officials say Roman Ostrovsky's 2006 conviction prohibited BBH from hiring him

November 22, 2010|By Scott Calvert |

Baltimore Behavioral Health Inc. is under investigation by the state's health inspector general for employing a psychiatrist who had been convicted several years earlier of Medicaid fraud.

The doctor, Roman Ostrovsky, 53, is one of eight physicians employed by the nonprofit mental health clinic over the past decade who have been disciplined by the Maryland Board of Physicians, with sanctions ranging from reprimand to license revocation, public records show.

One doctor became intoxicated while on call at BBH, board records show, and another groped a 22-year-old patient in an exam room.

Providers like BBH that receive Medicaid payments are barred from employing anyone on the federal government's "exclusions" list of people who have defrauded Medicaid, which is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, state health department spokesman David Paulson said. BBH faces a possible fine for the violation, he said.

BBH has informed state officials that Ostrovsky, who no longer works for the Southwest Baltimore clinic, held a "non-clinical" job. The Board of Physicians revoked his license in June 2007, a year after he pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud by billing the taxpayer-funded system $200,000 for thousands of therapy sessions he did not perform. He did not work for BBH at the time.

Paulson said providers are obligated to ensure that they have no staff members on the federal exclusions list. "He never should have been hired in the first place," he said of Ostrovsky. "This isn't an obscure regulation, this isn't a minor detail. This is a major issue when it comes to hiring employees."

Staff from the state Mental Hygiene Administration discovered in June that Ostrovsky was "on the grounds of BBH" and notified the state Office of Health Care Quality, Paulson said. Subsequently, he said, BBH dismissed Ostrovsky and notified the health department's inspector general.

William "Kris" Hathaway, BBH's chief executive, sent The Baltimore Sun an e-mail in response to questions. "BBH reported the problem to the authorities, is now in compliance, has taken measures to ensure it does not recur, and has no further comment," he wrote.

Hathaway declined to answer questions about Ostrovsky's employment dates, job duties or whether the clinic checked his background before hiring him. Former employees say Ostrovsky managed the psychiatrist suite starting in early 2009.

Ostrovsky declined to comment when reached by telephone at his Baltimore home.

Baltimore Behavioral Health was the subject of a recent Baltimore Sun investigation that revealed high Medicaid billings at the clinic. According to the investigation, some former BBH patients and employees and outside doctors say the clinic has been diagnosing mental illness — and collecting public funds to treat it — in some patients whose main affliction is drug addiction.

The Sun also found that BBH offers many patients a bed in unregulated rental homes in Southwest Baltimore. More than a dozen former patients and staff described illicit drug use by patients at some of the houses and BBH facilities.

The Mental Hygiene Administration began an investigation in May, after The Sun started its examination. The administration's probe is continuing. Over the past three fiscal years, BBH has received about $46 million in payments from the state's public mental health system, largely through Medicaid.

The Sun used tax filings, audit reports and interviews to identify 18 doctors who have worked at BBH. Eight have disciplinary records at the Board of Physicians. Unlike Ostrovsky, most worked at BBH in a medical rather than administrative capacity, board records indicate.

Dr. Priscilla W. Sheldon, who is among the eight and has struggled with substance abuse, said it's no surprise BBH has hired several doctors with drug or alcohol problems.

"The fact that more of them happen to be working here is simply because [BBH] has made the effort to give people a chance, which is important," she said.

Asked about the board's finding that two other physicians repeated past behaviors while on duty at BBH — one by groping a patient and one by drinking while on call — Sheldon said it was a "reasonable concern."

"When you have that many people who have been given an opportunity, there is a percentage you would expect might have difficulty," she said. "That doesn't excuse anything."

Robert Oshel, who retired as associate director for research and disputes at the federal National Practitioner Data Bank, said he is not familiar with BBH but said the number of doctors with disciplinary records could be problematic.

"Even if you have as one of your goals to hire problem physicians and rehabilitate them," Oshel said, "at some point enough is enough."

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