Earlier this year, we discussed the lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Attorney General in December 2014 against major nursing home chain owner Preferred Care Partners Management Group L.P., which is based out of Texas but operates in ten states throughout the Southwest, Midwest and Southeast United States. The initial filing alleged that nursing homes owned by Preferred Care have failed to meet federal and state regulations, and residents have suffered injuries, malnourishment, dehydration, and poor hygiene as a result of the tremendous negligence of facility aides and staffers. Some patients are even said to have died in these circumstances.
Many of these homes employ dangerously low levels of staff, which is unfortunately a trend in the industry whereby owners cut down on costs of employment, and can thereby increase their profit margins. The downside, obviously, is that residents receive less care than they need with few staff around, many staffers are overtaxed and overworked, and unfortunately some resort to abusive or at least improper activities to deal with patients that may be efficient but can also lead to injury or illness. These problems can also be caused not just by understaffing, but by a lack of training. Whistleblowers from these facilities have reported such low staffing levels that keep them from tending to residents in an adequate and timely manner.
The Troubling Details of the Nursing Home Neglect Case
Both the federal and state governments have poured in funds for patients, such as through Medicaid, to help meet costs of care at these homes. In January, Preferred Care was reported to have reaped more than $230 million, 80% of which came from government reimbursements alone, for a cumulative one million days of care provided to residents. Yet the quality of care was significantly lacking and was seemingly disproportionate to the number of hours billed. Acceptance of federal funds for a presumed level of care and treatment that does not exist or is lacking may constitute a false claim and grounds for a government lawsuit. New Mexico is now seeking to hold Preferred Care accountable if in fact these allegations are proved to be true.
In more recent news, New Mexico updated its court filings with an amended complaint that alleges even more instances of abuse as well as neglect of residents by staffers at Preferred Care-owned facilities in New Mexico between about 2011 and 2014.
A local news affiliate reported some of the added incidents to the complaint, including situations where patients who had to wear diapers did not have them changed as needed and thus sat in their own filth. Some residents did not shower for several days. Others suffering falls would be left laying helpless on the floor for prolonged periods of time before someone would come to their aid.
A former facility employee reported that there was not enough staff at a particular nursing home to sufficiently feed and nourish residents, or supervise their eating when they were on special diets such that one resident choked and died after being left to eat a hamburger on his own when he was supposed to only have soft foods. And on top of all of this, as the monetary basis for the suit, the Preferred Care facilities were accepting federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars for care that either never happened or was insufficient and thus led to overbilling, which is patently against the law. The state is relying on calculations of how much time should have been spent on adequate levels of care. While nothing has been admitted or proven, this lawsuit exemplifies the importance of vigilance by our government in keeping nursing homes honest.
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