Imagine what it would look like if someone left your organization and a month later fled a qui tam lawsuit and you never asked them about any questionable or illegal activity while the employee worked at your agency. The better course to follow would be to ask the questions and encourage your staff to report questionable or illegal activity to you while they are with you. If a departing staff member was interviewed before he or she left your agency and denied seeing any questionable or illegal activity, then that person’s credibility with a federal investigator or a jury will likely go down if the person later says that they observed such activity. Your credibility as an organization may go up, particularly if you can show that you ask these questions of everyone who departs the organization—thus demonstrating that your practice is to root out questionable activity.
Here are some basic points on conducting an exit interview:
- Do it quickly. Try to conduct the interview before the person actually leaves you, and better yet, make it an essential part of turning in keys, equipment or other company property and wrapping up the relationship.
- Keep it friendly. Use the opportunity to give the person your thoughts about the relationship and how it worked out. Include positive comments wherever possible.
- Listen. Ask open ended questions on a variety of subjects that assess your organization’s “people climate” and let the person talk. This is your chance to hear things you might not ordinarily hear for fear of job reprisal. Ask about quality of supervision, satisfaction with pay and benefits, opportunity for advancement, quality of training and quality assurance, and relationships with co-workers and other managers.
- Get it in writing. Ask the person to fill out a form that contains these and other such questions and their answers, and ask them to sign it. Make the form just one part of the exit interview process, not the only part of it. If the person does not want to fill out an exit form, don’t make a big deal about it. Simply ask the questions and document the responses. Conduct the interview with a neutral person present if you can, so you have a witness to verify what was said, particularly about any alleged improper activity.
- Ask specifically about questionable or illegal activity. On that note, make sure you ask the individual if he or she ever observed any questionable or perceived illegal activity and ask them to explain the observation in detail. Let the person know you will check out those concerns.
- Did you ever witness any activity you thought was inappropriate (e.g., improper billing, poor quality of care, improper conduct, policy violations)?
- If so, did you ever report your concerns to management? If not, why?
- Do you feel your concerns were adequately addressed?
- Were the problems corrected or have they recurred?
- Are you aware of any activities that you feel may be construed as fraudulent and abusive, or in violation of Medicare program standards?
- Are you aware of any conduct you feel is unethical or illegal, or have you observed any other activity in violation of policies? If so, elaborate.
- Have you heard substantive rumors or reports (i.e., those you felt had some credibility) of alleged unethical or illegal conduct by other personnel?
- Are you aware of instances where personnel removed documents or computer files without returning them?
- Are you aware of instances of breaches of confidentiality involving patient information or proprietary information?
- Do you believe that security, enforcement and other privacy and confidentiality standards were adequately met?
- What can we do to improve privacy and confidentiality?
These types of questions—answered by departing employees who are much more likely to give you candid answers—can give your agency invaluable information when it comes to rooting out improper conduct. More importantly, obtaining this information can give your agency—in conjunction with your legal counsel—the opportunity to get out in front of potential compliance problems. For instance, self-reporting a Medicare problem is generally preferable to having it uncovered in an audit, OIG investigation or false claims whistleblower suit.
Even beyond the added whistleblower protections, however, asking these types of questions and getting candid answers from departing personnel can help improve morale, working conditions, employee satisfaction and overall management of your organization.