Former Salem Health assistant medical director sues, claiming retaliation

A former Salem Health physician and assistant medical director is suing the hospital, alleging that he faced retaliation for reporting fraudulent billing practices to hospital management.

Dr. Jefferson Loa, filed a complaint for unlawful retaliation with the U.S. District Court in Eugene on Nov. 14. The suit was first reported by the Lund Report.


Loa was first hired in 2016 as a hospitalist, and received positive peer and performance reviews until at least 2020, according to the complaint. A hospitalist is a physician who works in a hospital setting, providing general medical care to a variety of patients.

In the summer of 2019, while serving as assistant medical director, Loa claims that he heard from nursing staff that physicians were doing “fly-by rounding,” a practice where they would spend very little time with a patient but bill for a complete checkup and procedures that never happened, according to the complaint. 

The complaint also says that physicians were not responding to nurse pages, and some physicians were required to take extended shifts up to 48 hours. 

Loa claims he reported the issue to Salem Health’s medical director at the time, and after a lack of response he took the reports to the corporate integrity department. The complaint says the department investigated the reports but Loa did not see any corrections made.

“While we cannot comment in detail on pending litigation, every concern raised by a provider or staff member is thoroughly investigated and, when necessary, appropriate action is taken,” said Lisa Wood, Salem Health spokeswoman in an email to Salem Reporter. 

All matters reported to corporate integrity are investigated, she said.

When asked how the hospital ensures physicians spend adequate time with each patient, Wood said that they follow medical staff rules and regulations for their rounds. 

“This is the organizational expectation. In these practices, medical staff are guided by their professional and ethical standards of patient care, and are a fundamental element of provider performance evaluation,” Wood said. 

Loa claims that after he made the report, he was excluded from management meetings that he had attended before. 

“His colleagues became noticeably cool and distant from him, leaving when he entered a room and excluding him from social events that he had previously participated in,” the complaint says.

Around this time, Loa claims he overheard physicians talking about dieting by fasting during 24 to 48 hour shifts. He brought this up in a patient safety meeting in September 2020, according to the lawsuit.

“Some of Dr. Loa’s colleagues reportedly took offense at this comment, claiming that it 

was a slight against their practices during Ramadan. Dr. Loa believed that their complaints were a pretext,” the lawsuit said.

Loa, who is Filipino-American, claims he was asked to write an apology letter, which was allegedly sent to the hospitalist staff on Sept. 18, 2020.

“My intention when I made the comment about providers allegedly practicing prolonged intermittent fasting (“fasting for 24 hours”) was to show that there were other factors that may affect patient safety other than the number of consecutive shifts a provider works. My comment was in no way shape or form intended to criticize any religion or providers who fast for religious practices,” he wrote in the letter, which was included in the lawsuit.

In January 2021, he said he was asked to step down as assistant medical director, and claims the reason was that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues with the fasting comment.

In April 2021, he claims he followed up on the “fly-by rounding” report, bringing it to the federal Office of Inspector General. 

Loa alleges Salem Health fired him without explanation or reason on February 22, 2022. 

Loa reported the alleged retaliation to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division in April 2021, the agency said. 

Claims typically must be filed within one year of the alleged discrimination, but Oregon BOLI issued Loa a right-to-sue in March 2022 which, combined with engaging in pre-filing negotiations with Salem Health, extended the court filing deadline and allowing him to file the lawsuit in November.

Loa is seeking over $2.5 million for lost earnings, economic damages and non-economic damages.

“Dr. Loa engaged in protected activity by reporting evidence that he reasonably believed in good faith constituted a violation of federal and/or state law, rules or regulations prohibiting falsification of patient charts and billing and that constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health by the practice known as “fly-by rounding,” the lawsuit states.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.