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Hearing ends in whistleblowing case

April 14, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

A closed two-day hearing on an addictions counselor's allegations that she was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on improper insurance billing procedures at the Washington County Health Department in December concluded Wednesday.

Administrative Law Judge Judith Plymyer presided over the hearing, which was conducted behind closed doors despite a formal protest from The Herald-Mail Co.'s attorney, Mary R. Craig.

Plymyer said her decision in the case involving Faith Toston also would be confidential, saying it was a personnel matter and therefore not public record.

"There isn't anything in the Maryland Whistleblowers statute that permits a hearing to be held confidentially," Craig said Wednesday from her Towson, Md., office.

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Toston claimed last December that she had become the target of retaliation.

According to her complaint filed with the state Office of Personnel Services, Toston grew concerned in September 1997 that she was being improperly instructed on how to complete insurance records.

Toston, who is not a credentialed counselor, alleged she was told to bill her clients' insurance companies as if the clients had seen licensed social workers or, in some cases, Director of Outpatient Services Barbara Koelle.

Toston reported the billing situation to state investigators and to seven insurance companies.

"I felt like it needed to be straightened out. I felt, morally, it was the right thing to do," she said in December.

She alleged the retaliation came from her supervisor, Koelle, and Director of Addictions Rebecca Hogamier.

Last May 20, Toston met with William T. Grossclose, chief of the Division of Internal Audits of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, to talk about the billing situation.

Grossclose was in attendance at the hearings this week.

On June 11, Toston was told she was being transferred to Catoctin Summit Adolescent Program. The assignment was night work instead of the day shift she has worked since joining the Health Department in 1990, Toston said.

In December, Toston was fighting the transfer, arguing it was not appropriate because she has no experience treating adolescents.

She hired attorney Diane A. Seltzer of Washington, D.C., and said in December she was considering taking the Health Department to court.

In December, Dr. Robert Parker, county health officer, said he could not comment on the whistleblowing allegations, which were being investigated by the state's Office of Personnel Services and Benefits in Baltimore.

"We don't feel there is any justification of the complaints. However, these whistle-blowing complaints have been taken seriously," he said.

Parker, who attended both days of the hearing this week, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Staff Writer Laura Ernde also contributed to this story.

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