WASHINGTON (CN) – The state of Maryland wants treble damages from a nursing home operator that it says has dumped at least 1,000 elderly residents, oftentimes at homeless shelters, after they’ve exhausted their Medicare coverage for a short-term stay.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh notes that Medicare pays for post-hospitalization care “at substantially higher daily rates than Medicaid pays for long-term care,” making it more lucrative for unscrupulous facilities to replace one resident for someone whose care will be reimbursed at a higher rate.
Frosh filed the complaint on Dec. 21 in Montgomery County Circuit Court, taking aim at Neiswanger Management Services, or NMS, the operator of five nursing homes across the state.
“Each year, NMS unlawfully evicts from its nursing facilities hundreds of frail, infirm, mentally ill, and physically and intellectually disabled people,” the complaint states.
Frosh says NMS gave 1,061 residents the boot between January 2015 and May 2016 – more than twice as many evictions as all other nursing homes in the state combined over the same time period.
NMS usually accused the evictees of not paying for their care, but the complaint says the real reason for this inhumane conduct is maximizing reimbursements from taxpayer-funded public health insurance programs.
“In 2015, the five NMS facilities received more than $100 million in reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, including more than $35 million from Maryland’s Medical Assistance program,” the complaint states.
Evicted regardless of their health status, former NMS residents frequently appear in hospital emergency rooms within days or weeks of eviction, according to the complaint.
Frosh says these individuals are usually “facing serious or life-threatening medical complications caused by their evictions,” and that the state is left to cover the cost of the emergency care they require.
“NMS often abandons its evictees far from their hometowns, in places where they have no family connections to assist them,” the complaint states.
Mark Yost, CEO of NMS told the Washington Post that they would fight the complaint.
“NMS strongly denies any wrongdoing and disputes the entirety of the attorney general’s allegations in this matter,” Yost said. “We intend to prove our case and will respond in the appropriate forum in due time.”
Attorney General Frosh details how NMS tossed out one cancer-stricken woman named Vonda Wagner from its Hagerstown facility last year.
A woman named Sharon Isaacs allegedly drove the 85-pound woman to one of the Baltimore row houses she operated and housed with “frail and disabled people.”
“NMS and Ms. Isaacs have a longstanding partnership under which NMS rids itself of residents whose Medicare post-hospitalization benefits it has already extracted or whose public health insurance profile it otherwise regards as no longer attractive, and under which Ms. Isaacs then strips these vulnerable and often helpless NMS evictees of social security payments and other public benefits,” the complaint states.
The complaint names seven individuals as defendants but Isaacs is not one of them.
During Wagner’s stay at the row house for several weeks, she was deprived of her medication and was fed only instant ramen noodles and water, according to the complaint.
Frosh says Isaacs beat Wagner and dropped her at a homeless shelter when upon learning that Wagner had canceled a state-issued debit card Isaacs had confiscated.
Wagner eventually went to the emergency room and remains homeless to this day, according to the complaint.
Another resident had more than $2,000 in social security benefits stolen from him in a similar scheme, according to the complaint, which also describes the abandonment of a “cognitively impaired” resident in the driveway of her son’s house on a 95-degree day. The son allegedly found his mother wandering toward the woods.
Frosh says more than 700 current residents in the five nursing homes Neiswanger manages are at risk of eviction if the court does not step in and grant the state’s request for an order preventing the company from issuing more evictions without reason.
“NMS and its leadership have compromised the health and safety of hundreds of vulnerable people with whose care they have entrusted,” Frosh said in a statement. “My office will fight to put a stop to NMS’ unsafe and inhumane practices. We will also seek to recover from NMS the public funds that the Medicaid program paid to NMS while it was engaging in this unlawful conduct, as well as the amounts that the Medicaid program paid to hospitals and other medical providers that cared for former NMS residents after they were evicted.”
The state seeks $10,000 per violation of the False Health Claims Act as well as three times the damages Maryland sustained for such violations.
In addition to NMS CEO Yost, the complaint names as defendants former CEO Matthew Neiswanger and the administrators of each nursing home it operates.