A former billing manager at Abington Memorial Hospital has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit accusing the hospital of Medicare fraud and wrongful termination.

According to the suit, Joanne Cleighton, 55, of Roslyn, had been talking to hospital officials for nearly a year about her concerns involving blood samples at the laboratory. In March, the suit says, she was fired on the same day she was scheduled to meet with the hospital's compliance officer.

In a statement, the hospital denied Cleighton's allegations and said it would vigorously defend the case in court.

The suit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, alleges that lab technicians were marking routine blood samples as urgent to keep the samples in-house and get paid for their testing.

Under the hospital's contract with Independence Blue Cross/Keystone Medicare and Medicaid plans, the suit says, routine blood work had to be sent to an outside lab.

The hospital said it had "investigated Ms. Cleighton's concerns and found no evidence of fraud." It said she was fired for "conduct issues."

Cleighton's attorney, Laura Mattiacci of the Philadelphia-based Console Law Offices, said her client had a pristine employment record. She managed about 40 employees in the hospital's insurance and billing office.

"She's been there 26 years without a write-up for a single performance issue," Mattiacci said.

On the day of the compliance meeting, the hospital told Cleighton she was being suspended for allegedly violating patient privacy laws and using a racial slur in a confrontation with a lab supervisor, Mattiacci said.

The hospital later told her it found no evidence of a privacy violation or the alleged interaction, and instead based her termination on an e-mail from six months earlier "in which they said she used language that was not how they would like their managers to communicate," she said.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law and the federal False Claims Act, in addition to wrongful termination.

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