The state’s high court has dismissed Aultman Health Foundation’s appeal of a verdict in the case brought by Mercy Medical Center. The ruling likely ends the legal dispute.
A battle that pitted Stark County’s two largest hospitals in a multi-million dollar lawsuit appears over.
The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by Aultman Health Foundation and its subsidiaries of a 2010 verdict and $6.1 million judgment awarded to Mercy Medical Center. Mercy’s lawsuit centered on Aultman’s secret payments to a select group of brokers who switched clients to health-insurance services provided by AultCare and McKinley Life.
Ohio’s top court agreed last summer to hear Aultman’s appeal but Mercy filed a motion to dismiss the case, and on Wednesday the court ruled in its favor.
After multiple appeals by Aultman, Thomas E. Cecconi, president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center, said he considers the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision the “last hurrah.”
The verdict against Aultman Health Foundation stands from the 2010 trial, including a Stark County jury’s $6.1 million award against Aultman and a judge’s award of $4 million in fees to Mercy’s attorneys.
Mercy had been seeking $110 million in past and future damages.
Mercy made several legal claims over the broker payments, and prevailed on one during the roughly eight-week trial — the payments constituted a pattern of corrupt activity that enriched Aultman at Mercy’s expense.
BOTH SIDES RESPOND
Allen Schulman, an attorney representing Aultman, said he will discuss the ruling with hospital officials as well as other attorneys before deciding whether to pursue another legal option.
“We are exploring our legal remedies,” Schulman said Wednesday. “(Aultman) will continue to provide the best quality health care to our community.”
One option would be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, but that court agrees to consider few cases, making that unlikely.
Lee Plakas, an attorney representing Mercy, was pleased with the ruling.
“Eleven judges have now unanimously confirmed that the jury had good reason to call Aultman’s secret payments of millions to select brokers corrupt activities,” he said in written comments.
“It takes courage to take a stand against corrupt practices, re-affirm ethical standards and make a community better for all its citizens,” Plakas added.
Cecconi said the lawsuit has not adversely affected the hospital.
“I think after the initial jury verdict there was quite a bit of discussion in the community,” he said, referring to residents and patients. “They felt what we had done was justified — they felt glad that those (issues) came to light, (and) they were looking more closely at their relationship with brokers and what type of insurance they had.”
“A number of companies switched insurance products and came to Mercy,” Cecconi added.
Aultman officials referred media questions to Schulman.
“At the end of the day, this has been a lawsuit which has not been positive for our community,” he said. “Obviously, if you review the record in the case, Aultman prevailed on five out of the six allegations, and while we are disappointed with the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, we never the less believe that the public understands that we maintain the highest standards of medical care to the citizens of our community.”
Page 2 of 2 - PRIOR APPEAL
Last year, the 5th District Court of Appeals upheld the verdict against Aultman.
Following that ruling, Schulman had stated emphatically that Aultman is not a corrupt organization.
Aultman has defended the broker payments — made through what Aultman termed its conversion support program — as consistent with its mission of providing quality, low-cost medical care. Aultman also has noted that federal and state regulators have taken no action over the payments.
Cecconi maintained the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the significance of the jury’s verdict.
“In the final analysis, Aultman will be paying us a significant amount of money for damages they caused us,” he said. “We’re going to be able to use that money to continue to provide excellent patient care at Mercy.”