SUMTER, S.C. -- 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.

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Information from: The Item, http://www.theitem.com