Loretto sought to open dialysis clinic with business partner of ousted executive — but hospital was unaware of men’s ties

In December the West Side hospital scrapped plans to build a $2 million facility — to be run by Sameer Suhail, an associate of then Loretto COO Anosh Ahmed — after questions were raised about whether it was needed.

SHARE Loretto sought to open dialysis clinic with business partner of ousted executive — but hospital was unaware of men’s ties
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A rendering of a dialysis center proposed for Loretto Hospital. The center was to be run by Sameer Suhail, a business partner of Anosh Ahmed who resigned as hospital COO this week.

State of Illinois

When The Loretto Hospital sought state approval to build a $2 million dialysis facility two years ago, it did so with a for-profit company owned by a business associate of one of its top executives.

The hospital’s board confirmed Thursday that it was unaware of the relationship, adding to a series of decisions by Loretto’s senior executives now under scrutiny. The officer with the previously undisclosed business partner is Anosh Ahmed, who on Wednesday resigned as Loretto’s chief operating officer in the wake of a scandal involving misallocation of COVID-19 vaccines.

The dialysis project was eventually scrapped but during the process the hospital board says it didn’t know that Ahmed was involved with business ventures with Sameer Suhail, a serial investor who proposed operating Loretto’s new facility through his Austin Dialysis Center LLC.

“The Loretto board was not aware of a business relationship between Anosh Ahmed and Sameer Suhail as the hospital applied for a certificate of need for a dialysis facility,” the directors said in a statement to the Sun-Times Thursday. Ahmed did not respond to a request for comment.

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Former Loretto COO Anosh Ahmed (left) is a business partner of Sameer Suhail, who sought to open a dialysis center at the hospital.

Provided

Loretto withdrew its application for the project in December but, prior to that, laid out an ambitious plan that involved Suhail’s dialysis business operating the Loretto center, which would provide outpatient treatment to patients with kidney failure. Suhail would operate the center for two years rent free, representing a value of $167,750, and then Loretto would acquire 49% of Suhail’s for-profit business, state records show.

The hospital needed to convince state regulators that there was a need in the Austin community for a new dialysis center, which at least one specialist doctor who previously provided such services at Loretto, publicly disputed. Staff of the state’s Health Facilities and Services Review Board flagged a number of problems with Loretto’s application showing need for such a facility and noted that there were already 15 dialysis centers within 5 miles of Loretto that served almost 1,400 patients. In a Dec. 8 letter from Suhail’s lawyer, Loretto and Austin Dialysis withdrew their application with the state.

Courtney Avery, an administrator for the health facilities board, said the state body doesn’t require disclosure about business relationships among hospital executives and said any such conflicts should be sorted out at the hospital level.

Ahmed infuriated the Loretto board after repeated instances of questionable vaccinations first reported by Block Club Chicago. Last week, Block Club showed a picture of a grinning Ahmed pictured with Eric Trump around the time of a controversial vaccination event run by Loretto at Trump Tower downtown, where Ahmed owns a condo, using shots that the city said were intended for residents in the vulnerable community where the hospital is located.

There’s no evidence that Ahmed would have profited from Suhail’s dialysis partnership with Loretto and their business activities did not relate to the proposed facility. Three limited liability companies that Ahmed and Suhail are involved with together all relate to a proposed Kankakee County hemp farm, Suhail’s spokesman Dennis Culloton said in an interview.

Culloton also said that Suhail has long been involved in starting and operating health care businesses that help community hospitals, such as Loretto, serve low-income underserved areas.

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Loretto Hospital at 645 S. Central Ave. in South Austin, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

According to Loretto, more than 70% of its patients are on Medicaid, the U.S. government program for the poor. The hospital identifies the low-income majority-Black communities of Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale as its service area.

“Sameer Suhail has been investing in businesses to serve community hospitals for 15 years. It’s his passion,” Culloton said. “These relationships were long before he met Anosh [Ahmed].”

Ahmed and Suhail met through a mutual friend around 2015 when Ahmed was still a resident at Mount Sinai before being hired by Loretto in 2018. Both are medical doctors with multiple business investments. Culloton said they also are involved in some residential real estate investments.

State records show Ahmed and Suhail are managers of Aljazara Halal Meat, a limited liability company formed in October 2018. That business owns a slaughterhouse in Kankakee County and surrounding land that will potentially be the site of a future hemp farm, Culloton said. Two related limited liability companies were formed last year, state records show.

The application to the state for the dialysis facility lists Suhail and Loretto Chief Executive George Miller — who was also reprimanded over the vaccine controversy — as the primary contacts for the permit process for approval of the center. Ahmed, as hospital COO and CFO, is listed as the “post permit contact.”

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A rendering of the proposed dialysis center at Loretto Hospital.

State of Illinois

‘Not really a need’

The application drew criticism from Dr. Hamid Humayun, chief executive of the Maple Avenue Kidney Center in Oak Park.

Humayun argued in a letter to the state health facilities board in 2019 that the Loretto facility “would flood the market” with dialysis care. He said in an interview that his Oak Park center only operates at about 50% capacity.

“We have dialysis in Oak Park which is about 2 miles from Loretto and it is only half full,” Humayun said in an interview. “ ... There is not really a need to open another facility.”

Humayun said he used to provide dialysis care at Loretto but withdrew after a financial dispute with Ahmed and Miller shortly after they joined the hospital in 2018.

“They stopped paying us because they said they didn’t have the money,” Humayun said. “They didn’t have the money to pay us but they have money to spend at Trump Tower.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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