On Friday, May 21, 2021, The Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced a settlement in a case that alleged that an Atlanta, GA based chain Sava SeniorCare that owns more than 160 facilities across the country violated the False Claims Act by billing Medicare for rehab services that were not reasonable, necessary, or skilled. Was this a big win for the people against nursing home chains ripping off the system? Unfortunately, if you look under the hood at the settlement, it’s another example of a big corporation that took advantage of the system and got a slap on the wrist.
The US Attorney alleged that between 2008 and 2018, the chain Sava SeniorCare submitted false claims to Medicaid for rehab therapy services and false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for grossly and materially substandard and/or worthless skilled nursing services, which were caused in large part by the chain’s failure to provide a sufficient number of skilled nursing staff. The Sava SeniorCare chain agreed to pay $11.2 million and enter into a five-year chain-wide Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the Department of Health and Human Services Offices of Inspector General.
For its part, a spokesperson for the Sava chain gave the following statement: “We have spent 10 years and several million dollars vigorously defending our position in these cases. As stated in the settlement agreement, we believe that the allegations were unfounded. Nevertheless, the cost of continuing to litigate would have exceeded the settlement payment. We believe it is the right time to put these matters behind us as we begin to recover from the pandemic.”
Is this the new norm for Skilled Nursing Facilities to have Million Dollar Settlements?
While we applaud the intent of the US Attorney, we must point out that this is not a win. In the end, a large nursing home chain was allowed to sweep 10 years of alleged Medicare billing fraud misbehavior under the rug for the price of its legal fees. The settlement won’t make a dent in their finances, and it won’t compensate any of the real victims, namely the thousands of residents who received sub-standard care.
These cases remind us that making nursing home chains accountable and truly fixing the system will require stricter laws and swifter justice. Even as the US Attorney investigated the alleged violations, in this case, the Sava SeniorCare chain was allowed to operate as if nothing was happening – for 10 years. In the end, the chain was allowed to claim that they were innocent victims of an overly zealous government investigation. Really?!
The settlement is better than nothing, but let’s not start doing high 5’s and pretending that we, the people sent a stern warning to a nursing home chain. To us, it looks like business as usual. We must shed more light on the problem at hand so skilled nursing facilities are not required to pay out million dollar settlements to victims.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting nursing home abuse, elder abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York of York Law Firm.