Articles Tagged with nursing home abuse

Life Care Centers of America (“LCCA”), and its owner Forrest Preston, have agreed to pay $145 million to settle a government lawsuit Life Care Centersalleging that LCCA violated the False Claims Act by knowingly causing their nursing homes to submit false claims for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable or necessary. The Tennessee based company, owns and operates more than 200 nursing homes across the United States.  Forbes estimates that Forrest Preston, who is sole owner of the company, has a net worth of around $1.4 billion.

The lawsuit alleged that LCCA committed fraud by falsely billing Medicare and TRICARE for medical services that were provided to patients who were ineligible to receive them. Medicare reimburses nursing homes at a daily rate for the health care services that they provide to Medicare patients. This daily rate is based on the level of care that is provided to a patient, as well as the amount of time that a patient spends receiving that care.  Further, the Complaint contended that LCCA pressured their employees to provide the maximum level of care to their Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries, despite the fact that many of these patients did not need these services, in an effort to increase the daily rate they billed to the government. The Department of Justice argued that this excessive level of medical attention, and increased length of stay, was harmful to these patients, and that LCCA’s financial interests were prioritized over the quality of care that was provided to their patients.  The settlement ends eight years of litigation in two consolidated False Claims Act lawsuits filed separately by a former nurse and a therapist employed at LCCA.

The False Claims Act allows private citizens to sue those that commit fraud against government programs.  Moreover, the False Claims Act contains qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions. Qui tam is a unique mechanism in the law that allows citizens with evidence of fraud against government contracts and programs to sue, on behalf of the government, in order to recover the stolen funds.  In compensation for the risk and effort of filing a qui tam case, the whistleblower or “relator” may be awarded a portion of the funds recovered, typically between 15 and 25 percent.

After an alarming report by the website ProPublica, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced plans to crack down on nursing home employees who take demeaning photographs and videos of residents and post them on social media websites.  The report documented 44 known incidents across the country since 2012 in which nursing home woSocial Mediarkers posted photos or videos of nursing home residents on social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.   Among the incidents documented by the report was a certified nurse assistant sharing pictures of a resident lying naked in bed covered in feces. Additionally, earlier this year, a 21-year-old nursing home CNA in Wisconsin recorded a video of a partially nude, 93-year-old Alzheimer’s patient playing tug-of-war with her clothes. At the time, the CNA “thought it was funny” according to her post on social media.  She is now facing criminal charges for the post.

As a result of the ProPublica report, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent out a memo to state regulators laying out guidelines that forbid employees from taking demeaning or humiliating photos and videos of residents.  The memo sets uniform standards for how such abuse should be written up by inspectors and the severity of sanctions that should be levied. In the past, there was great variability.

“Nursing homes must establish an environment that is as homelike as possible and includes a culture and environment that treats each resident with respect and dignity,” said the memo signed by David Wright, director of the CMS survey and certification group. “Treating a nursing home resident in any manner that does not uphold a resident’s sense of self-worth and individuality dehumanizes the resident and creates an environment that perpetuates a disrespectful and/or potentially abusive attitude towards the resident(s).”

Federal and state laws require that nursing homes maintain or attain the highest practicable mental, physical, and psychosocial well-being for their patients.  These laws provide that nursing homes must ensure that their patients’ nutrition and hydration needs are met, as proper nutrition and hydration are two critical components for nursing home residents to maintain their overall health and well-being inside the facility.

The elderly are particularly at risk for both malnutrition and dehydration.  Due to decreased body reserves and other diminished capacities, the elderly are much more susceptible to malnourishment than younger adults. Moreover, many aging patients have dental problems or experience loss of appetite caused by health problems or medications. Thus, they need to be monitored by nursing home staff carefully for any signs of malnutrition. Often times this is not done.

Another reason patients become malnourished while residing in nursing homes is that many cannot feed themselves without assistance, and are not properly fed by nursing home staff. Each year thousands of nursing homes across the country receive citations for inappropriate feeding tube insertions or improper feeding methods.

A great injustice is taking place in this country:  the use of pre-dispute binding arbitration clauses in nursing home admissions contracts by the nursing home industry.  These clauses provide that victims of abuse and neglect in nursing homes give up their right to a jury trial. This directly undermines the spirit and intent of the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987:  to improve the quality of care and clinical outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.

Elderly nursing home residents and their spouses are being pressured or mislead into signing arbitration clauses, frequently when they lack the mental capacity, authority or true willingness to do so.  If arbitration was a level playing field and fair to both sides without any negative repercussions to the resident or family, does anyone really believe that the nursing home industry would feel the need to so aggressively enforce them and seek to bury these provisions within 50 pages of admissions materials?

Arbitration provisions lead to protracted litigation, not faster results or less expensive resolution of cases.  The nursing home industry uses them to stall cases, take appeals and delay justice.  An elderly surviving spouse may not live long enough to see justice when nursing home corporations take this approach.