Mercyhealth has terminated one of its vice presidents, Barb Bortner, after the Janesville-based health care group said it learned Bortner was involved in a $3 million fraudulent invoice and kickback scheme with a vendor.

In an internal memo obtained by The Gazette on Monday, Mercyhealth CEO Javon Bea wrote that it is with “great sadness and disappointment” that Mercyhealth Vice President Barb Bortner has been fired.

Mercyhealth as of Monday hadn’t offered specific details behind the firing, but Bea wrote in the letter that Mercyhealth officials suspect Bortner is responsible for “improper” and fraudulent arrangements and services with an unnamed vendor.

Bea wrote that Bortner and the vendor were involved in a series of transactions that inflated invoices to Mercyhealth and involved “kickbacks” in a scheme he said involved $3 million in Mercyhealth finances.

“The information will be as distressing to many of you as it is to me,” Bea wrote about Mercyhealth’s findings of fraud.

“Our patients and the communities we serve expect us to conduct our business affairs with the highest degree of integrity. We are all deeply saddened and disappointed that a member of our team has betrayed that trust,” Bea wrote, noting in the memo that “an incident like this has never happened before in our history.”

A Mercyhealth legal official reached by The Gazette on Monday afternoon declined to immediately give further details of the fraud.

Bortner, a 1982 Janesville Craig High School graduate and a 30-year employee at Mercyhealth, in recent years has been at the helm of the regional health care group’s marketing and public affairs division.

Bea said Bortner has been removed from her vice president post and also fired from the Mercyhealth Development Foundation.

The Development Foundation is Mercyhealth’s philanthropic arm, a division of the group that’s worth $35 million, according to the group’s most recently reported nonprofit tax filings.

Including major hospitals in Janesville, Walworth County and Rockford, Illinois, Mercyhealth operates seven hospitals and more than 80 primary care and specialty facilities in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Mercyhealth’s hospital and health care division is estimated to be a $237 million annual operation, the most recent tax records show.

Bortner was paid $345,000 a year, according to nonprofit pay records from 2020.

As of Monday, Bortner was still listed on some web searches as a Mercyhealth vice president, but it appeared her personal profile had been scrubbed from the business social media website LinkedIn.

Bea did not indicate in the letter the timeframe of the suspected fraud or when Mercyhealth discovered altered vendor invoices and other evidence of fraud.

Bea wrote that the fraud was linked to activities within Mercyhealth’s marketing division. The fraud did not appear to have involved medical supplies, and it did not appear to have impacted patient care, he wrote.

Mercyhealth is awaiting more information from “investigating authorities,” but the group now has begun severing ties with the vendor believed to have been involved.

Bea wrote that the health care group intends to recover “all improperly expended funds.”

It wasn’t clear if Mercyhealth intends to pursue criminal charges, but Bea wrote that Mercyhealth now is asking a third-party consultant to review the group’s vendor management and invoicing practices.

Bea wrote that Mercyhealth intends to “take all necessary steps to improve Mercyhealth procedures.”


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