Vietnam hospital whistleblower fears deposed director's return

By Ha An, Thanh Nien News

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(L-R) Khuat Thi Dinh, Hoang Thi Nguyet and Phan Thi Nam Dong exposed a billing fraud scheme that affected over a thousand patients at their workplace Hoai Duc General Hospital in Hanoi in 2013. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre (L-R) Khuat Thi Dinh, Hoang Thi Nguyet and Phan Thi Nam Dong exposed a billing fraud scheme that affected over a thousand patients at their workplace Hoai Duc General Hospital in Hanoi in 2013. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre


A hospital employee who blew the whistle on an elaborate blood test scam last year says the return of her former director threatens her job and personal safety.
This week, the Hanoi mayor signed a decision that "demoted" Nguyen Tri Liem to the role of deputy director of the Hoai Duc General Hospital in the eponymous district.
Last March, a court found Liem guilty of gross negligence and suspended him from work.
The court ordered the hospital to censure Liem for the scheme, which involved the generation of over a thousand fake invoices for the purposes of swindling insurance companies and patients out of a few hundred dollars.
Hoang Thi Nguyet, the diagnostician who brought the scam to light, told Thanh Nien that Liem's return will mean trouble for her and other whistleblowers.
“It’s not alright,” she said.
The 47-year-old said she will oppose Liem’s return by sharing more bad information about him.
Nguyet worked for months with two colleagues to prove that the hospital had generated around 1,544 test false results between July 2012 and May 2013.
Nguyet found that each genuine test result was duplicated up to four times and given to unsuspecting patients to pay for.
It is not clear if the fake blood tests had any impact on the patients’ treatment.
Eight diagnosticians including Vuong Thi Kim Thanh, then head of the examination department, were charged with abuse of power during the March trial.
The indictment said Liem, as the hospital director, had ordered his staff to falsify blood tests to make money.
The court found Thanh guilty of masterminding the scam that swindled around VND16.57 million (US$786) from patients and insurers. The hospital recouped roughly 30 percent of insurers’ coverage for insurance card holders.
Nguyet was awarded VND320,000 ($15) and a certificate from the Hanoi Department of Health for her efforts to expose the crime.
The reward sparked public criticism. Many called the sum insulting and discouraging to potential whistleblowers.
Nguyet was reassigned to a different department so she could be protected after the story broke, but she continues to receive hateful glares at work and violent text messages at home.

Nguyen Tri Liem in the dock on March 7, 2014. The court found him guilty of gross negligence for allowing a blood test scam to go on at the Hoai Duc General Hospital in Hanoi from July 2012 to May 2013 when he served as director. Photo: Ha An
“My life has turned upside down since the press and the police stepped in,” she told Lao Dong (Labor)  newspaper.
Some messages threatened to kill her while others targeted her only son.
Similar messages have also been sent to those who helped her blow the whistle on the scam. 
Nguyen Chi Tung, the chairman of the hospital workers' labor union, has received similar threats since he spoke out against unfair treatment and hostile treatment of Nguyet.
“If this continues, I’m afraid we can't remain calm and focus on work,” Tung said.
Nguyet has sought police help but she was told that it would be hard to track down the senders of the threatening message as their numbers aren't registered.
The police even told her they can't intervene until she's actually attacked.
After avoiding jail in March, Liem lobbied to stay on as the hospital's deputy director, Nguyet said.
Nguyet asked the district government and Hanoi health department to thwart his efforts to do so.
Now, she says she's not surprised they ended up listening to Liem and ignoring her, but she's scared that workplace hostilities will escalate.
Many of Liem's relatives continue to work at the hospital, some as department heads. Several diagnosticians implicated in the scam remain at work, which Nguyet said she does not understand.
Last year, members of that group joined Liem to lodge a complaint accusing Nguyet of falsifying blood test results.
Hanoi police have taken the complaints seriously and opened an investigation against her.

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