When Lindy Richardson Street interviewed in 1993 with then-Columbia Healthcare Co. CEO Rick Scott to be the company’s director of marketing and communications, she was still shaking off the effects of a distressing professional experience. To her disbelief, the federal government had indicted one of her associates at another company.The ordeal — intensive investigations and depositions and public fallout — was draining. Street was not part of the alleged conspiracy, but its effects consumed her for months. She never wanted to confront a similar experience again.So when Street started her interview with Scott, she told him: “I have to tell you, if you ever ask, hint at it or suggest to me, or if it smells or feels like it’s illegal or immoral, I won’t do it, and furthermore I will tell people you did.”Street pauses.“I never had to remind him of that conversation,” she says today. Street worked side by side with Scott from 1993 until he resigned from Columbia-HCA in 1997.From the moment Rick Scott declared his candidacy last spring for Florida’s governorship and challenged fellow Republican frontrunner Bill McCollum, Florida’s mainstream media and Scott’s opponents, including Democrat Alex Sink, have strafed voters with relentless attacks on Scott’s character.Their claim is tightly told with a fact: The company he founded and built into the leading health-care company in the nation over a 10-year period paid $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines to the federal government for alleged Medicare fraud.Media reports routinely say Scott’s Columbia-HCA Corp. “systematically” defrauded the federal government — never citing evidence that it was proven Scott or his fellow senior managers condoned or even hinted at perpetrating the alleged fraud, never citing evidence of malice and premeditation by Scott. In last week’s gubernatorial debate, Democratic candidate Sink simply repeated the mantra: “I can’t think of anything more frightening,” she said. “He led a company with the most massive Medicare fraud, cheating seniors and taxpayers … The people of Florida cannot trust you at all.”To be expected, the state’s biggest newspapers dug into the scandal. They reported, although downplayed, that Scott was never charged with any crimes nor investigated. The Miami Herald said “federal investigators found that Scott took part in business practices … that were later found to be illegal” — citing no evidence of Scott’s personal involvement nor noting that these “practices” were widely accepted in the industry until federal regulators changed the rules.As newspapers often do, The Miami Herald, unable to convict Scott in print, resorted to a standard journalistic practice — raise doubt in readers’ minds about Scott’s character and attribute this opinion to “experts.” Wrote the Herald last June:“Whether or not Scott was aware of his company’s questionable conduct, the breadth of the problems raises questions about Scott’s leadership, management experts say.”But if you talk to the people who worked at Scott’s side during his tenure as Columbia-HCA’s CEO, former Columbia-HCA board members, as well as outsiders whose companies did business with Scott or sat on opposite sides of a negotiating table with Scott, the picture of Rick Scott is far different from the one Scott’s political opponents and mainstream media have depicted.
- Stephen Braun, Columbia-HCA’s general counsel who has known and worked with Scott for nearly three decades: “He’s as honest as a Boy Scout."
- Former Columbia-HCA board member Dr. Magdalena Averhoff of Miami: “Honorable, straightforward, sincere. Rick revolutionized medicine. He was a visionary.”
- Josh Nemzoff, owner of Nemzoff & Co. LLC., who sat across from Scott on eight sales of hospital companies to Columbia-HCA and has never been paid a dime by Scott or Columbia-HCA: “I would never use the term arrogant to describe Rick."Asked how Scott was different from other hospital CEOs back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nemzoff says: “Very simple. He’s smarter than all of them."
- George Pillari, founder and CEO of HCIA Inc., an independent company that analyzed the efficiency of Columbia-HCA hospitals, and who worked with Scott. Asked about Scott’s ethics and honesty, Pillari says: “That’s never questioned."To be sure, there are at least two sides to a story. In this report, you will see a picture of Scott you likely haven’t seen. And you will see there is more context behind the alleged Medicare fraud than has been reported during this election cycle and more to the resignation of Scott from Columbia-HCA than the alleged fraud.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
From Matt Walsh of Gulf Coast Business Review on Oct. 15: