Dr. Brian Hyatt, suspended from Medicaid and under investigation for health care fraud, has resigned as chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board.
In a special meeting Thursday, the board voted to accept Hyatt’s resignation but allow him to remain on the board as a non-executive member.
Vice Chairman Dr. Rhys Branman, a Little Rock cosmetic surgeon, will be interim chairman until the board can meet next month to hold an election.
“Quick note: My attorney will have a full statement but I wanted to pass on that I would like to step aside as chairman and move to a non-executive committee, voting member of the ASMB until standing issues resolve,” Hyatt wrote in a Wednesday email to the board’s staff. “This is only out of respect for the board’s mission and ensuring good care for Arkansans.”
Also on Wednesday, Hyatt’s attorney appealed a decision by the Arkansas Office of the Medicaid Inspector General to suspend all Medicaid payments to the psychiatrist and his practice in Northwest Arkansas, Pinnacle Premier Psychiatry.
Hyatt’s resignation comes after the Advocate reported on the suspension, an ongoing Medicaid fraud investigation by Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office and several patient lawsuits.
The State Medical Board elected to accept a pair of documents about Hyatt “as information,” essentially taking them under advisement without further action. The first is the letter suspending all Medicaid payments to Hyatt from the Medicaid inspector general. The second is a search warrant affidavit prepared by the Attorney General’s Office seeking access to Hyatt’s phone records.
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Board members noted that Hyatt would be treated like other doctors facing allegations: They would allow the investigation to play out and give him an opportunity to be heard.
“He’s going to go through the process as everyone else,” board member Dr. Brian McGee said. “He’s done the responsible thing by stepping aside as chair so the board can continue to take care of the business we’re supposed to without any distractions.”
The board does have the power to issue an emergency suspension of a physician’s license, but board member Dr. Sylvia Simon noted that was reserved for cases where patient or public safety was in danger. Hyatt, she noted, hasn’t been charged with a crime, and the allegations are fraud-related rather than dealing with patient abuse (though two separate civil lawsuits accuse Hyatt and his staff of false imprisonment, battery and assault).
The allegations being investigated against Hyatt center on his time at Northwest Medical Center in Springdale, where he ran the hospital’s behavioral health unit. His contract at the hospital was “abruptly terminated” in May.
Investigators spoke with several hospital staff members, reviewed days of hospital surveillance footage and found unusual patterns in Hyatt’s billing practices, according to a search warrant affidavit.
The affidavit alleges that Hyatt appeared to consistently bill Medicaid for the highest level of patient severity — and therefore the highest reimbursement rate — without seeing those patients face-to-face.
The warrant, approved by a Pulaski County circuit judge on Jan. 17, indicates there is “reasonable cause” to believe Hyatt committed Medicaid and health care fraud
Medicaid fraud for an overpayment of $2,500 or more is a felony, according to state law.
In a Wednesday letter to Elizabeth Pitman, the director of medical services at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Hyatt’s attorney Gabriel Mallard contested the Medicaid payment suspension.
Mallard wrote that there had “not been an effort to intentionally deceive or mispresent any services provided to a Medicaid recipient.”
He also said that the state Medicaid inspector general didn’t provide the requisite details about any alleged fraud.
“Though, OMIG has noted a credible allegation of fraud as the basis for suspension, there are no general allegations as to how or what fraud was alleged to be committed,” Mallard wrote. “This is important as OMIG states that the appeal ‘must specify in detail why suspension of payments from the Arkansas Medicaid Program is not supported by state and federal law.’”
230301.GDM to Pitman.Hyatt Response to OMIG (002)
The inspector general’s determination was based on a nine-page search warrant affidavit from the AG’s Office, which the Advocate obtained in a public records request.
The appeal also notes that the Advocate received a copy of the suspension letter before Hyatt did.
“In light of the disclosure of this action to the public prior to disclosure to Hyatt or PPP, I would request consideration of an expedited hearing schedule,” Mallard wrote.
Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed Hyatt to the Medical Board in 2019. He was elected vice chairman in January 2022 and more recently elected chairman. His term expires at the end of 2024.
Messages to Hyatt and his attorneys seeking comment have not been returned.
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