Blowing a whistle on bad manufacturing practices at Baxter Healthcare’s 2,000-employee plant in Marion took a courageous stand by Chris Wall, an employee with 37 years’ experience at the site. In 2011-12, he told plant managers about mold on discolored air filters near machines filling 60,000 bags of sterile intravenous solution a day. When no action was taken over the next year, Wall went to Charlotte lawyer Tony Scheer, leading to a complaint in January 2013 alleging that Baxter had caused the government to pay for improperly made IV bags used for patients with Medicare, Medicaid or military health insurance.
The case was settled in January when Baxter agreed to pay more than $18 million to resolve its liability in an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. Wall received about $431,500 under the federal whistleblower law. While a federal investigation revealed no evidence of tainted products, Baxter fired several managers and instituted new compliance processes.
It could have been a much costlier outcome for Baxter because the government only pressed for compensation related to IV bags used by Veterans Administration and military-hospital patients, Scheer says. “They believed there was weaker ground from a legal basis to seek reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid, but we think they were too quick to say there was no harm, no foul.”
The case shined a light on the biggest employer in McDowell County and its production of more than half of all IV solutions used in the U.S., according to court documents. The Deerfield, Ill.-based company had revenue of $10.2 billion in 2016. After the lawsuit was filed, Baxter “acted very much properly and ultimately appreciated Chris for bringing this issue to their attention, which saved them much more trouble down the road.”
Wall, who continues to work at the plant, “loves that company,” Scheer says. “It’s a beautiful coincidence that they treated him right.”
Driven by demand for more business conventions, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort plans to add 600 to 800 hotel rooms and 100,000 square feet of space for meetings. Convention sales have grown by double digits since 2013, according to Leeann Bridges, regional vice president of marketing, generating $3 million in revenue in 2015. The program could have made twice that amount if more hotel and meeting rooms were available, she says. Owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and managed by Harrah’s, the 20-year-old property in Jackson County has 1,108 hotel rooms and about 15,000 square feet of meeting space. Harrah’s in 2015 opened a second, smaller casino near Murphy, in Cherokee County. Part of Nevada-based Caesars Entertainment, Harrah’s hopes to break ground on the expansion by the end of 2017, with construction expected to take about two years.