Sacred Heart Hospital boss to be sentenced in kickback scheme

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Ed Novak, the 60-year-old CEO of the West Side’s now-shuttered Sacred Heart Hospital, reportedly had told staff to “cover our asses” before investigators examined the hospital’s books. He was convicted in March for ripping off Medicare and Medicaid. | Sun-Times File Photo

A former Chicago hospital boss was set to be sentenced Wednesday in a scheme to bribe doctors to send patients to his sub-standard and maggot-infested hospital.

Ed Novak, the 60-year-old CEO of the West Side’s now-shuttered Sacred Heart Hospital, was convicted in March for ripping off Medicare and Medicaid. His co-defendants — Sacred Heart finance chief, Roy Payawal, and its chief operating officer, Clarence Nagelvoort — are scheduled to be sentenced later this week.

The bribes ensured that poor, elderly, vulnerable and most often black patients from far-flung corners of the city would be driven by ambulance past far better hospitals to be admitted at Sacred Heart, which could then bill taxpayers for the treatment it provided, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur said earlier this year the scam turned what should have been a trusting relationship between patients and their doctors “upside down.”

“A patient, when they go to a doctor, has to trust that doctor to make decisions about their care based on what is best for the them, not on what will make the doctor money,” she said at the start of the trial.

Novak’s attorneys had attempted to blame a pair ofcorrupt hospital workers, Noemi Velgara and Dr. Anthony Puorro, for cooking up the scam under which bribes to doctors were disguised as rental payments, teaching and staffing fees.

ButNovak, of Park Ridge, was undone by his own gruff words in secretly recorded conversations, including one in which he instructed staff to “cover our asses” before investigators examined the hospital books.

The case first hit the headlines when federal agents raided the hospital in 2013, alleging that doctors were essentially kidnapping patients and bringing them toSacredHeart.

Among the most lurid allegations originally leveled atNovak— though it did not result in charges — was that he encouraged his doctors to order patients undergo unnecessary tracheotomies so thatSacredHeartcould bill Medicare or Medicaid for the surgery.

Doctors would “snow” the patients by doping them up so that they couldn’t breathe unassisted, then use that as justification to cut a hole in the patient’s neck, the government alleged in court documents. In some cases, the surgery was fatal, the feds said.

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