This story was produced with the Better Government Association, a nonprofit news organization based in Chicago.
AUSTIN — Loretto Hospital paid millions of dollars to private companies founded by a close friend and business partner of Dr. Anosh Ahmed, who helped run the hospital until he resigned last month amid a COVID vaccine distribution scandal.
The publicly funded hospital paid nearly $4 million to the three companies in one year alone, making them the top-paid “independent contractors” listed on the hospital’s tax statements between July 2018 and June 2019.
All three companies have ties to Ahmed’s business partner and friend Sameer Suhail, according to an investigation by Block Club Chicago and the Better Government Association. One of Suhail’s companies, One Health Billing Co., received $2.1 million from Loretto during the 12-month time period. Headquartered in Suhail’s Trump Tower condo, the firm doesn’t have a website and isn’t registered with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office.
The three companies were created in 2018, soon after Ahmed took over as chief financial officer and chief operating officer at the cash-strapped safety-net hospital in the Austin neighborhood.
Ahmed resigned in March after Block Club revealed the hospital vaccinated ineligible people tied to its executives — but Loretto is still working with Suhail’s companies, according to Suhail’s spokesman.
Loretto’s most recent tax filings raise questions about why the financially troubled hospital was awarding contracts to a friend and business partner of its chief operating officer.
The 122-bed, acute-care center serves mainly low-income people and patients of color, records show.
The money Suhail’s firms collected represents about 5 percent of the hospital’s $81 million spending during that 12-month period. But those records don’t show how much any of Suhail’s companies billed Loretto after June 2019. And the records don’t indicate if any smaller hospital contracts went to other firms run by Suhail and his family, including a medical residency program that records show is headquartered in the hospital building.
Spokespeople for Ahmed, Suhail and Loretto declined to explain why Loretto awarded the multi-million dollar contracts after Ahmed took control of the hospital.
In an emailed statement, hospital spokeswoman Becky Carroll said over the past three years Loretto has experienced a financial and operational turnaround “resulting in savings for contracted services, millions more in increased revenue and the expansion of critical health care services for the community it serves.”
Public tax records showed Loretto’s expenses and overall losses rose significantly during Ahmed’s first year as an executive at the hospital. Carroll said one of Suhail’s firms bid for its contract but she did not provide specifics about the bid and about the hospital’s recent finances.
Ahmed’s spokesperson did not respond to written questions. Hours after Block Club and the BGA requested comment about the Loretto transactions, Ahmed posted a statement on a public relations newswire stating he is an entrepreneur, angel investor and physician whose “portfolio consists of bars, clubs, hospitals, clinics, schools, and apartments. These, he believes, are useful in bringing the community closer together.”
Suhail’s spokesman, Dennis Culloton, called Suhail an entrepreneur with longstanding business ties to more than a dozen community hospitals in Chicago, as well as in Georgia, Florida and internationally. He said one of Suhail’s medical residency businesses has provided services to Loretto since 2011, years before Ahmed arrived.
“His reputation providing services to community hospitals is well known,” Culloton said. “Sameer is proud of the work he has done to help Loretto and other community hospitals deliver quality health care while improving their financial position.” He added: “Every one of Sameer’s agreements undergo rigorous review by compliance counsel to ensure all contracts are negotiated at arm’s length and meeting all health care regulations.”
Loretto has been embroiled in scandal since March, when Block Club reported ineligible people were vaccinated at places with ties to Ahmed — including people at Trump Tower, where Ahmed and Suhail live, as well as a luxury jewelry shop and a high-end Gold Coast steakhouse.
Block Club and the BGA analyzed public hospital tax statements as well as court and corporate records, and conducted dozens of interviews with medical practitioners, business executives and friends.
City officials last year chose Loretto to administer Illinois’ first COVID-19 vaccine doses. The non-profit hospital serves communities which suffered disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic.
Loretto reported a $12 million operating loss in its 2019 tax report, and it has struggled with funding during the pandemic, CEO George Miller has said. In recent years, Loretto has warned it could close due to funding shortfalls.
But while Loretto appealed to state lawmakers for taxpayer support, Ahmed and Suhail were living side-by-side in a Downtown high-rise and pursuing businesses together, according to land and corporate records as well as interviews with business and medical colleagues.
From Dance Clubs To Medical Residency
Ahmed and Suhail are business partners, friends — even neighbors. The two bought and leased units next door to each other on two floors of the luxury Trump Tower, according to land records and interviews.
They met through a mutual friend around 2015, after Ahmed graduated from medical school and was a resident at Mount Sinai Hospital, Culloton said. They’ve invested together in real estate and in a hemp farm venture, according to government records; they have not invested together in medical firms, Culloton said.
A decade ago, Ahmed was neither a doctor nor a hospital executive. He was a Houston businessman who operated trendy dance clubs — Meridian and The Drake, among other ventures, according to news accounts and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records.
Ahmed also invested in a small Houston firm that arranged hospital residencies for medical students. Soon he was embroiled in lawsuits in which he and the firm’s founder accused each other of fraud before settling out of court, Harris County court records show.
Ahmed went to medical school at Windsor University School of Medicine in St. Kitts in the Caribbean. He established himself in Chicago doing medical rotations in safety-net hospitals, which serves people regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. He became a resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in about 2015.
As Ahmed neared the end of his residency at Sinai, Loretto forced out its CEO in November 2017. The hospital’s board replaced her with Miller, its current CEO and president.
Just after Miller took over as CEO, Ahmed in November 2017 was named Loretto’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer. His Illinois medical license was issued a month later in December 2017, according to the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation.
Soon after taking the job, Ahmed sold Miller the luxury Aqua Tower condo where the CEO subsequently lived, records show. Miller declined to discuss the circumstances under which Ahmed was hired or any financial transactions between them, referring reporters to hospital spokeswoman Carroll.
Loretto paid Ahmed $420,000 in his first full year as CFO and COO ending in June 2019, according to the hospital’s public tax return.
Soon after taking the job, Ahmed bought a $555,000 condo on the 68th floor of the Aqua Tower. That was the unit he later sold to Miller for the same price.
It was Ahmed’s first in a string of major real estate purchases after becoming a Loretto executive. In 2020, Ahmed bought a Trump Tower apartment for $2.7 million, and since 2019 he has bought three Houston properties for a total of $7 million, according to land records in Illinois and Texas.
Along for the ride was Suhail.
On one LinkedIn posting, Suhail described himself as a lifelong Chicagoan who has devoted his business skills to high-quality health care training programs in underserved parts of the city.
Over the past decade, Suhail registered more than 25 Illinois corporations with medical names and then listed a plethora of assumed names for many of those companies, state corporate records show.
Revive Medspa & Esthetics Inc. took on assumed names Allegra Pharmaceuticals Inc. and National Surgical Corp., for example. The assumed names make it difficult to determine the function of each corporation.
Over the years, Suhail has incurred tax liens and incurred small claims court judgments against his businesses and properties, land and court records show.
In a 2017 court deposition, Suhail outlined his portfolio of enterprises: “I own several businesses in the medical field,” he said. “I own imaging centers. I own a clinical placement group at — 155 N. Michigan is my head office. We do clinical clerkship for students. I am an associate dean of one of the medical schools, which is in St. Vincent. I’ve owned and operated Allertech, which is an allergy business. So you know, we have a variety of health care businesses.”
A New Hospital CFO — And New Business Opportunities
After Ahmed joined Loretto’s executive suite in 2018, Suhail’s business with the hospital grew.
Suhail joined the board of directors for the Loretto Hospital Foundation, the facility’s fundraising arm, in October 2018. Ahmed was also on the board.
In 2019, Loretto proposed Suhail create a dialysis center at Loretto with financing shared by the hospital. Ahmed was listed as a hospital contact for the application. Loretto withdrew its application in December 2020 after a state board flagged concerns about whether the facility was needed. Loretto’s board later said it hadn’t been aware of the business relationship between Suhail and Ahmed.
Suhail’s wife, Dena Besumi Suhail, is also listed as the director of Medical Education at Loretto on the hospital’s website, though Carroll said she is not an official Loretto employee. Among those in the residency program are her brother-in-law, Sameer’s year-older brother Sam Suhail. She and her husband, Sameer, own and run residency firms that connect medical students to residency positions and rotations for a price, state corporate records show.
One of the Suhails’ medical residency firms, called Comprehensive Clerkship Group, has listed its headquarters at the hospital. It has operated under assumed names, including American International Alliance for Residency Programs and others.
New Records Reveal Business Ties
While Culloton said the Suhails have operated their medical residency business at Loretto for nearly a decade, the hospital’s newly released tax report shows Sameer Suhail took on a lucrative new role starting in 2018.
Loretto’s tax return for the year ending June 30, 2019 — the most recent available — lists the nonprofit hospital’s five highest-compensated independent contractors.
The tax return said Loretto’s financial books and records were in possession of Ahmed, who was listed as COO and CFO.
Suhail created the three top firms soon after Ahmed took his executive positions at the hospital in 2018, the Block Club and BGA investigation found. They are not mentioned in prior tax returns for Loretto.
Little information about the companies is available in public records — but at least one was partly owned by a psychiatrist at Loretto facing a malpractice lawsuit and another is connected to a man charged with shooting a relative in March.
Here are snapshots of Loretto’s ties to the Suhail firms:
• Loretto’s highest-paid independent contractor, One Health Billing Co., was headquartered in a Trump Tower condo where Sameer and Dena Suhail live, according to Loretto’s tax report and separate land and court records.
Loretto paid One Health Billing Co. $2.1 million during the 12 months ending June 30, 2019.
Culloton confirmed that a company with the same name incorporated in Delaware on Sept. 13, 2018, was the one billing Loretto.
Paying $2.1 million to a corporate entity that is not registered in Illinois raises questions about board oversight of the non-profit hospital, said Lloyd Mayer, a University of Notre Dame law professor.
“In my book, the fact that they’re paying so much money to a company that isn’t registered to do business in Illinois certainly raises a yellow flag,” Mayer said. “That is the kind of thing the hospital board would be obliged to look into.”
Culloton said the company is owned completely by Suhail and is not registered in Illinois because of an oversight by a company accountant. “Sameer’s lawyer agrees with you that One Health Billing should be registered and is taking steps to do so,” Culloton said. He said One Health increased Loretto’s reimbursements by millions of dollars by improving collections and billing processes.
Hospital spokeswoman Carroll said Loretto decided to outsource its billing work “to a company with the expertise required to bill more efficiently in order to boost the hospital’s cash flow. [One Health Billing] had the most cost effective bid and ultimately helped to capture significantly more cash collections … and therefore revenue for the hospital.”
• Loretto paid $887,188 for “outside lab services” to SKS Healthcare Management Group, which is registered at Suhail’s 155 N. Michigan Ave. office, the hospital’s tax statement shows.
Suhail registered this company with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 19, 2019, listing himself as president, director and registered agent. He owns 100 percent of it, Culloton said.
Then on March 26, 2021 — two days after Ahmed resigned over the improper vaccinations — Suhail was removed from the state corporate registration and a new individual replaced him as president and registered agent: Jamil Elkoussa.
Elkoussa has been listed as an executive on websites for some of Suhail’s medical companies, including American International Clinical Group, and a Suhail umbrella firm named United Healthcare Investment Group, headquartered in another office Suhail uses in the Equitable Building at 401 N. Michigan Ave.
Two and a half weeks after Elkoussa took charge of SKS, on April 11, he was charged with felony reckless discharge of a firearm after he shot a gun in his home and the bullet hit a family member in the chest, according to Cook County criminal court records. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Culloton said Suhail was unaware of Elkoussa’s arrest. “Upon learning of the events involving Mr. Elkoussa, Sameer is considering all options for discipline, up to and including termination,” Culloton said. He added, “SKS has provided efficient reliable outside lab services to Loretto — after other vendors failed to perform.” Following questions from reporters, Elkoussa’s name was removed from the websites of Suhail corporations.
Loretto spokeswoman Carroll said of SKS, “They provide cost-effective services for lab services performed at the hospital.”
• In Loretto’s third top payment to an “independent contractor,” the hospital paid $980,000 for “behavioral services” to Metropolitan Behavioral Associates Inc. of Suhail’s 155 N. Michigan Ave. office.
Suhail is listed as the registered agent of the corporation, which was formed in April 2018. Culloton said Suhail was not an owner but had an employment agreement as CEO with an annual salary of $220,000.
Besides Suhail, the company’s other listed officer is psychiatrist Thodur Ranganathan, who works at Loretto and other safety-net hospitals. Culloton said Ranganathan owns 100 percent of Metropolitan.
Ranganathan faces a pending medical malpractice lawsuit over injuries allegedly sustained by a Loretto psychiatric patient. He and Loretto have denied wrongdoing in that case. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Carroll said Loretto’s contract with Metropolitan enabled the hospital to expand the number of beds it devotes to psychiatric patients and provide round-the-clock care.
Loretto’s board is responsible for overseeing contracts and financial billings to ensure top vendors aren’t overcharging or charging for services that weren’t provided. Loretto has said about 75 percent of its funding comes from the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs, and the inspector general for those programs watches how taxpayer dollars are spent at U.S. hospitals.
As pressure mounted over Loretto’s vaccine scandals, the hospital’s board met — but the board’s members, including state Sen. Kimberly Lightford and Rep. LaShawn Ford, who has since resigned, initially refused to say how they would hold Ahmed and Miller accountable.
After Block Club reported on more improper vaccinations, Ahmed resigned March 24. Miller was suspended for two weeks.
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