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Lawsuit trail hints at troubles in Rick Scott's current health care business

TALLAHASSEE — Just six days before Rick Scott announced his bid for governor, he was deposed in a case that alleged his health care company, Solantic, broke Florida law by filing false medical licensing information with the state.

But what Scott said April 7 might never become public.

Within a month, Solantic settled the 2-year-old case and signed a confidentiality agreement with Dr. P. Mark Glencross, who claimed his medical license was misused by the Jacksonville-based chain of walk-in clinics. The state has no current or former investigations into Solantic over the licensing issue.

At the same time the case was quietly settled, the Republican front-runner was drawing attention to Solantic on the campaign trail by boasting of his business background and the company's patient-centered, low-cost health care model that provides "Starbucks-style" transparent pricing at nearly 30 clinics in the state.

The Glencross lawsuit and nine other court actions filed against the company since 2001 in Duval County tell a different story. Taken together, they portray the company, and sometimes Scott by extension, as a ruthless employer that discriminated or cut corners in pursuit of profit.

In all but one case, the plaintiffs, Scott and Solantic's chief executive, Karen Bowling, said they can't talk because of confidentiality agreements. Bowling said Solantic settled the cases at its insurance company's request.

Scott's spokeswoman, Jen Baker, said Scott, who wouldn't comment, is only a major investor in the company that he founded. Scott was involved in only two of the suits against Solantic.

"Rick never wants to be deposed — he'll do everything to get out of it," said David Yarian, one of the first Solantic physicians and the first person to sue the company just after it was founded in 2001. The suit was the only one Solantic settled without a confidentiality agreement.

Yarian said Scott has displayed a "pattern of getting other people to do their dirty work and not being held accountable" — a reference to Scott's time as the head of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain company in the 1990s. The company was charged with fraud and fined a record $1.7 billion. But Scott was never deposed and never charged with a crime.

Scott's campaign describes Yarian as a "disgruntled" former employee who was fired for violating company policy by taking home freebies left at the clinic by a pharmaceutical representative.

Yarian, though, said he was fired only when he repeatedly questioned Scott's hiring practices. He said Scott had insisted the doctor only hire "fit, trim and mainstream-looking" employees. Yarian said that he felt "mainstream" meant "Caucasian."

According to Solantic's statistics, the company has a higher proportion of minority employees when compared with the percentage of Florida's minority residents.

But from 2003 to 2005, five Solantic employees and two job applicants claim that the company regularly discriminated against people who were overweight or minorities. All filed suits with the same Jacksonville law firm in 2006 and settled a year later. Solantic was then sued in a wrongful-death suit that was settled last year.

Lawsuit trail hints at troubles in Rick Scott's current health care business 08/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 3:01pm]
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