Woman claims she received fraudulent billing from rural hospital

Source: WGCL

Nearly 100 rural hospitals have closed in the last decade and 700 more are at risk of closing. But some have become hugely profitable including Chestatee Regional in Dahlonega.

They are getting big paydays from insurance companies but some people say it is all through questionable billing practices.

In a town known for the first major gold rush in the U.S., this tiny hospital has become an insurance gold mine. Chestatee Regional, a 49-bed hospital, has been operating for more than 40 years.

Kelly Smallwood worked there for 13 years in the billing department. She says the owners had been trying to sell it for years until summer 2016 when a Florida lawyer offered to buy it for $15 million.

"It set off an alarm," said Smallwood.

Smallwood says right after the sale huge checks from insurance companies started to roll in. Some as large as half a million dollars. Records show the money was being paid out for drug screens all over the country, some conducted at Reliance Lab in Florida also owned by that Florida lawyer , Aaron Durall.

"I knew what they were doing right from the get go," said Hribal.

Sonya Hribal of Tyler, Texas says Chestatee Regional billed her insurance thousand of dollars for tests her son got in rehab in Michigan.

"So what was the total? Close the 20 thousand dollars."

Constant calls about billing from people around the country lead Smallwood to quit her job at Chestatee.

"Right's right and wrong is wrong. That's not how I was raised," said Smallwood.

In an email to CBS News, Durall said: "All testing at the rural hospitals you mention is properly billed."

Insurance companies pay rural hospitals much more for the exact same treatment or procedure than hospitals in big cities in an effort to keep them open.

For now the lab billing out of Chestatee has been suspended.

Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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