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What’s It Like to Be a Whistleblower? An Interview with Dr. Ting

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THIS POST CONCERNS A CLIENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT LAW GROUP® LAW FIRM. THE RESULTS OF ALL CASES DEPEND ON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. PAST SUCCESSES DO NOT PREDICT OR GUARANTEE FUTURE RESULTS.

The Employment Law Group® law firm represents employees who stand up to wrongdoing in the workplace. If you fear being punished — or even fired — for doing the right thing, our attorneys can provide a thorough evaluation that may help you get the career protection and financial compensation to which you are entitled.

Our Founding Fathers called whistleblowing “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States,” and Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act to foster the practice. But while federal laws reward people who report fraud against the government, whistleblowing isn’t always easy.

On March 8, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would award whistleblower Joseph Ting more than $7 million for his role in a settlement under which 21st Century Oncology, the cancer-care giant, will return $34.7 million to taxpayers to resolve allegations that it overbilled government insurance programs including Medicare.

The outcome was a long-awaited vindication for Dr. Ting, who was represented in the case by The Employment Law Group® law firm. (Read more about our firm’s involvement in the case.) In this candid Q&A, Dr. Ting talks about the experience of being a whistleblower.

Do you remember the moment you decided to take this action against your employer?

I don’t remember an exact time, but it started in March 2014 — shortly after 21st Century took over South Florida Radiation Oncology, the cancer treatment center where I worked. 21st Century was pushing us to implement its so-called Gamma project as fast as possible. This was a huge undertaking and I did not see any medical benefit. 21st Century seemed to be concerned about maximizing its profits, not patient care. I knew I could not be part of that, so I had to do something.

What was the problem with Gamma, exactly?

I am a medical physicist; part of my job deals with calibrating radiation therapy for cancer patients. With Gamma, 21st Century was demanding that an extra measurement be taken for every radiation dose given to every patient — and that each extra measurement be billed to the patient’s insurance. They said it was to confirm proper dosing.

Precision is important, so I did everything I could to understand what Gamma does. But the more I looked into it, the more I had doubts about the whole thing. In my opinion the extra measurement provided no medical value. People were not properly trained to use Gamma, it did not work properly in many cases, and no one looked at the results anyway. Plus it made treatment sessions longer, which is unfair to patients. Later I found out it was being billed improperly, too.

Did you raise these concerns internally?

Yes. I talked to my immediate supervisor. His attitude was that there was nothing he could do about it — it was 21st Century policy. But he shared my concerns with the technology director of 21st Century, and the three of us had a meeting. The technology director said something like, “Oh, we don’t charge for that, it’s just for the patients’ benefit.” But I knew that was not true.

So you decided to file a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the taxpayers who were paying for this via Medicare. Did that make your work uncomfortable?

The lawsuit did not impact my work directly because no one knew I had blown the whistle. The process is kept secret from the defendant for a period of time. But I did feel more stressed at work. I avoided doing any Gamma work because I was not comfortable with it, so I felt separate from the rest of the group. I really believed they were doing something wrong, and I felt like I had alienated myself. No one said anything, but that was a significant part of my reason to depart in July 2014. I couldn’t be part of the group anymore. I could not be a silent participant.

Do you have any regrets about blowing the whistle?

No. It was the right thing to do. I suppose that if news had broken before I found a new job, then maybe I would have had trouble finding employment — I don’t know. I could retire if necessary, but I enjoy my work and I’m not willing to retire yet. If I were younger, maybe I would have thought this was more of a risk. But it is important to listen to your conscience.

Tell us a little about your new job.

It’s a relief from the stress I experienced at South Florida Radiation Oncology. Where I work now is a very friendly environment and everybody is part of the culture together. We’re transparent and open and talk about things. I am part of the group again.

Is your employer abusing Medicare? The Employment Law Group can help you to take action.

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