Lawyers: SC hospital could be forced to close

      <p> <font size="2">Lawyers: SC hospital could be forced to close</font> </p>

      SUMTER, S.C. (AP) -- Lawyers say a Sumter hospital could be forced to close if it's forced to pay a full judgment in a false Medicare claims case.

      The Item of Sumter reports ( ) Thursday that attorneys for Tuomey Healthcare System say in court papers there would be "a public health disaster" in the area unless a stay is granted in the case.

      Earlier this year, a federal jury found Tuomey signed doctors to lucrative, part-time contracts to ensure that they would get referral fees associated with those physicians' procedures -- an illegal kickback under Medicare law.

      Prosecutors said Tuomey collected $39 million in fraudulent Medicare claims between 2005 and 2009 based on those doctors' procedures.

      The federal government is seeking more than $237 million in damages, an amount Tuomey says is unconstitutional.