SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Three of Sanford Health's top executives sent an email to employees earlier this week and blasted the federal government and two Sanford doctors who filed a federal lawsuit against one of their colleagues.
Dustin Bechtold and Bryan Wellman filed the suit in 2016 against the company and one of its neurosurgeons, accusing them of defrauding the federal government and harming patients by performing unnecessary surgeries. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Dakota filed a motion to intervene in the case Wednesday and a federal judge unsealed it Thursday.
Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, Chief Operating Officer Matthew Hocks and Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle used the email to call the allegations against Dr. Wilson Asfora "bogus," according to the Argus Leader, which obtained the email.
The email says Asfora is regarded as a premier neurosurgeon in the Upper Midwest. It says that Krabbenhoft and Hocks both had surgeries performed by Asfora. It adds that Asfora saved the life of Krabbenhoft's grandson, who had cranial surgery.
The three leaders also told employees that they are confident the allegations are without merit because of reviews conducted both internally and by the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners. The reviews weren't described in the email.
The complaint by Bechtold and Wellman says Sanford Health has been buying medical devices from Medical Designs, a company owned by Asfora. The suit said Asfora used those devices in spine surgeries at the hospital in violation of anti-kickback laws. The suit describes accounts of Asfora installing unnecessary screws and medical devices into his patients.
The suit said Sanford's leadership ignored complaints from doctors and intentionally covered up Asfora's surgical errors.
The email from the three Sanford executives predicts that the case will "drag on for years."
"You will undoubtedly hear more rumors or sensational allegations in the future," the email says. "We commit to keeping you informed with objective and accurate information on a regular basis."