I believe in the mission of hospice.
That's why I've penned multiple columns about Hospice of the Comforter's heartbreaking but noble role of caring for the terminally ill and why my wife and I have personally supported the agency as well.
That's also why I hope federal authorities turn that place inside out.
And why I hope the Hospice's board of directors takes action first.
Because the story unfolding— about sky-high salaries and allegations of wasted taxpayer money — is troubling.
And the mission is far too important to be derailed.
At the heart of the lawsuit filed by the agency's own former chief financial officer is the claim that Hospice routinely sought Medicare money for people who didn't actually qualify for or need hospice care.
Former CFO Doug Stone claimed he found instances of Hospice taking Medicare money for patients who were receiving Hospice care for as long as five years — and were then labeled "no longer terminally ill" when questions were raised.
Just as troubling were the revelations that the agency's CEO had big-time bonuses tied to the number of people served — as much as $50,000 every three months.
In other words: CEO Bob Wilson had a financial incentive to get as many people under Hospice care as possible — and a compensation package worth more than $360,000.
That's a lot of money for a faith-based nonprofit that routinely solicits donations.
The salary and benefits aren't in question. They're spelled out in tax records.
But Hospice says the allegations in the lawsuit are unfounded — the product of a "disgruntled former employee" and that the agency remains strong and focused.
Except, we're not talking about some low-level staffer. Stone was hired by Wilson and served as the agency's top financial mind for nearly three years.
Also, internal memos show other Hospice leaders were also dissatisfied with Wilson's leadership — enough so that they wanted Wilson to resign.
That's the summary of the minutes from a meeting of nine people — top Hospice executives and board members — included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.
Among the group's concerns were "compliance issues … putting the organization at risk."
The group also cited concerns of nepotism involving Wilson's daughter and granddaughter during staff layoffs, hiring an unlicensed contractor and "misleading" board members about plans to restructure the organization.
The minutes said the group planned to call for Wilson's resignation at the next board meeting on Oct. 25, 2010.
But the lawsuit alleges that Wilson got wind of the plan, canceled the meeting and then suspended two of the top employees involved.
Over the following year, most of those who attended the meeting have either resigned or been terminated.
Among the resignations: Board member and Winter Park lawyer Jill Schwartz, who worked tirelessly on the organization's annual fundraisers.
Tax records from 2009 show that Schwartz's event in raised $83,000 — a significant number, but still less than the agency paid Wilson for just two of his four quarterly bonuses.
Schwartz resigned last week after Stone was fired.
In an email exchange, Wilson said things are not as they seem. He said that his organization is still strong and its mission still noble. Wilson said he wanted to say more, but that his lawyers told him not to.
There is no question this agency has done good work — and continues to do so.
But there's also no question that donors and taxpayers deserve a full accounting.
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