13 Investigates: Whistleblower meets moms and children seeking justice

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - An Indianapolis doctor-turned whistleblower is speaking out in the wake of an $18 million settlement with Indiana's largest health system.

Dr. Judy Robinson says the lives of those harmed in an alleged money-making scheme will never be the same.

13 Investigates caught up with Robinson during a tearful meeting with some moms now seeking justice.

A first-time meeting for Robinson and the babies whom she says paid the biggest price as the result of an alleged scheme putting low income pregnant women on Medicaid, and their babies at risk.

Robinson read the reports about what happened to the mothers during childbirth. Meeting them in person overflowed with emotion.

"I just want to thank them for coming forward, that took tremendous courage on their part," said the former maternity director.

Three years after Robinson filed a federal whistleblower case against Indiana University Health and HealthNet, the Indiana Attorney General announced an $18 million settlement. The lawsuit alleged IU Health and HealthNet took advantage of moms by limiting their care and then submitting fraudulent billing for the mothers' high-risk pregnancies.

Under state Medicaid rules, doctors should have cared for moms like Nancy Koger, but Robinson's lawsuit claimed the health system was billing doctors rates while certified nurse midwives handled the high-risk cases.

In a statement, attorneys for IU Health said the healthcare system "...agreed to resolve the allegations without any admission or determination of liability." The "agreement reflects IU Health's desire to avoid the continued expense and distraction of prolonged litigation."

The attorneys also quoted the Department of Justice saying, "There is no evidence of physical injury or harm to patients as a result of the allegations." The Department of Justice was referring to the anti-kickback portion of the lawsuit.

Robinson and these mothers are angry at IU's suggestion that no patient harm was done under the certified midwives portion of the agreement.

"To see the reality in those two women is the strongest statement that could ever be made," said Robinson, referring to Nancy Koger and Donna Mills.

Koger says a certified nurse midwife sent her home after failing to understand her baby girl Denise was suffering fetal heart distress days before she delivered. Denise was born with permanent brain damage.

"Are we nobody? Is he nobody? Are you nobody?," asked Koger, looking around the room. "I feel like nobody. Nobody got harmed. Sure. Angry," she said in conclusion.

Mills says a certified nurse midwife missed critical information during the birth of her grandson Chase. Chase's mom Tana Tyler died during delivery. Chase lives with developmental delays.

"That was painful because they know exactly what they did," added Mills.

Robinson and her attorneys question why state officials failed to enforce a decades-old Medicaid rule that "does not allow midwives to see high-risk patients unless supervised by a physician." That information was detailed in this email to another hospital.

"How did HealthNet get away with avoiding the regulations that everybody else had followed," questioned Jillian Estes, the attorney representing Robinson.

During a deposition, Mary Blackburn, a certified nurse midwife with HealthNet, admitted HealthNet violated policy.

"Do you think that the HealthNet practice that you've described to me is consistent with that the Medicaid handbook?," questioned Estes as part of a deposition in July 2016.

After numerous pauses and dead silence, Blackburn finally answered, "As written, no."

13 Investigates learned HealthNet just signed an agreement with the state requiring it to now follow the rules for care of high-risk pregnant women.

The Indiana Attorney General's office says the agreement with HealthNet is to ensure rules are followed in high risk pregnancies.

"This is a very tragic, sad story. It didn't have to happen," said attorney David Stewart, who is now handling malpractice claims on behalf of Koger and Mills. He says a medical review board is now taking a look at the claims.

As part of the anti-kickback settlement, both IU Health and HealthNet will pay $9 million dollars each. Robinson was awarded $2.8 million from the federal portion of the money. The rest goes back to taxpayers to fund Medicaid.

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